Sunday, September 22, 2013

The rewards of working together - special column on Sukkot in the Las Cruces Bulletin - September 20, 2013

Rabbi Karol at the Sukkot Service
in the Temple Beth-El Sukkah
on September 18, 2013
The rewards of working together 

The Feast of Booths looks at randomness, acts of kindness

By Rabbi Larry Karol 

For the Las Cruces Bulletin

In Las Cruces, we have many opportunities to marvel at nature’s beauty, from the mountains to the amazing vistas pro­vided by sunrises and sunsets.

At other times, we know that we need shelter from storms that remind us that some aspects of life are beyond our control, as demonstrated by recent flooding in Colorado and in our locale.

We also know that we do have the power, and a responsibil­ity, to offer a helping hand to the victims of minor and major disasters.

The Jewish festival of Sukkot, the Feast of Booths, touches on both the randomness and kindness that we experience in our lives.
This holiday begins five days after Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonment, a day of fasting and reciting prayers of confession.

The biblical book of Leviticus contains the command to dwell in booths – sukkot – for seven days. Each booth, or “sukkah,” is a temporary structure with walls made of wood or cloth, and a roof that is partially open to the sky and covered with branches from nearby trees. Building a sukkah, whether at one’s synagogue or home, requires a cooperative effort among family members or congregants. A sukkah is decorated with fruits, vegetables or artwork. Just as certain aspects of life are not permanent, the sukkah is taken down after the end of the celebration.

The book of Leviticus also directed the Israelites to take sev­eral natural symbols: palm, willow and myrtle branches and the product of a “goodly” tree (a citron, a yellow, lemon-like fruit – etrog in Hebrew). The branches are held together in a wicker holder to form the lulav. During the holiday, it is customary to hold the lulav and etrog together in one’s hands, shaking them to the east, south, west and north, bringing them to one’s chest (to “point” inside the person), and then up and down. This rit­ual acknowledges the unity of creation.

One classic interpretation relates those natural symbols to how we can reach our highest potential, individually and collectively.

In his prayer book, “Gates of Joy,” Rabbi Chaim Stern said, “The palm resembles a spine. It says: stand straight, be brave; do not fear to be yourself. The myrtle is like an eye. It says: look well upon this lovely world. Look at all its creatures with joy. The willow’s shape is like a lip. It says: sing and smile; say words
 that are tender and kind. The etrog is like a human heart. It says: open your heart to every living being; feel their pain and know their gladness; give your love with a willing heart.”

With such kindness and courage, and with open hearts, we can offer one another the comfort and support that will take us through difficult times, and enable us to see the best in each other. A Jewish prayer envisions the sukkah as a “shelter of peace.” It is we who build that shelter, only and, especially, when we work together.

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