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We Are Blessed Where We Live #796

09/29/2023 03:44:00 PM


Rabbi Irwin Huberman

The Holiday of Sukkot 

We Are Blessed Where We Live

Is there any symbol more central to the American Dream than owning your own home? What is it about a home that makes it so special?

For many, it represents the culmination of dedication and hard work; it means a successful career-and standing on your own two feet.

But for the Jewish people, it wasn't always that way. Many of our parents and grandparents who immigrated to this country first lived in a basic room in the home of a relative.

Many launched their working lives as my grandfathers did, selling socks and combs farmhouse to farmhouse in northern Quebec, or delivering blocks of ice in Montreal before the advent of the refrigerator.

And from these tiny rooms, most advanced to apartments and homes.

And that, in part, is why the Festival of Sukkot which begins this evening, is rooted so deeply within the collective Jewish psyche.

In 2023, we observe the holiday by spending time in outdoor huts. And we shake the Lulav and Etrog—a gathering of four biblical specials.

But Sukkot also inspires us to remember those in our past who began their lives in America so humbly, with a simple roof, a narrow bed, depending upon others to sustain them.

This has been the trajectory of our people over thousands of years, from our initial liberation from Egypt.

When it becomes too hot, we turn on the air conditioner. Too cold, and on comes the heat. We are blessed with running water, multiple bathrooms, kitchens, dining rooms, dens and garages.

Within the safe walls of our homes, children are raised, guests are invited, laughter is shared, challenges—liked the rain we are currently experiencing—are weathered.

But it wasn't always like that.

There was a time when we as a people dwelled in small desert huts, moving from oasis to oasis on the journey from Egypt to the Promised Land.

It is that common beginning, and our collective ascension which we celebrate this week, during the Festival of Sukkot.

In a word, Sukkot is about humility. We thank God for the gift of shelter. We praise the Creator for the miracle of food. Most importantly, we take note of those, during these challenging times, who have neither.

In ancient times, Sukkot rituals focused on rain. Without rain, there would be no crops, and the Israelites would be driven from their land. 

But things have changed.

The Sukkahs we now build remind us that we are descended from those who never took comforts for granted. It is a time of year to both reflect and ensure that we have not become too complacent within our own comforts—and that perhaps we don't take the American Dream for granted.

We are encouraged to invite friends and strangers to our humble booths, where, under the stars, where, minus life's usual trappings, we inhale the brisk fall air and experience God's creation.

A few years ago, the Cantor and I taught a bar mitzvah student who inspired us to look at Sukkot in a unique way. As his bar mitzvah approached, scheduled for Sukkot, we observed his struggles preparing his Hebrew prayers and reading.

So, rather than engage him in a tortuous regime of Hebrew repetition, we encouraged him to re-examine Sukkot in a more personal way.

One afternoon, we walked with him through the forested area which once separated the edge of our synagogue from nearby Cottage Row. There we discovered, that overnight, a number of homeless people were using our nearby woods for shelter.

We bagged up food wrappers and empty bottles, in order to make the grounds safer. The young man, then turned to us and observed, "We need to be creating more Sukkahs in this world, so that no one has to live this way."

From there, he dedicated his bar mitzvah preparations to supporting the local men's shelter, and collecting food for the needy. I believe the lesson of his bar mitzvah will remain with him for many years to come. 

The holiday of Sukkot reminds us that it is a great gift to be alive. And in spite of ongoing challenges, we remain blessed to live in this country of peace, shelter, and sustenance.

In a few weeks, the Glen Cove Men's Shelter will open its doors for the winter. Dozens will seek warmth within its simple walls, a shelter of peace supported by a dedicated volunteer board and a number of faith communities.

The shelter is dedicated to sustaining those who have no Sukkah. And that perhaps is the meaning of this biblical holiday.

Sukkot reminds us, on the shoulders of our parents and grandparents, how truly lucky we are to be living the American Dream. 

So, in the aftermath of the High Holidays where we are encouraged to look inward, Sukkot inspires us to focus outward, and count our blessings.

It also reminds us of how fragile life can be. Let us therefore, from the depths of our humble beginnings, work to elevate the lives of others.

Each of us is, after all, descended from a group of wanderers who found shelter in huts. And so, on this, the Festival of Sukkot, let us extend the gift of shelter to others—for each of us, under God's heaven is entitled to food, clothing and shelter.

A small hut, basic food, under a starry sky, amidst the company of family and friends.

When it comes down to it, how much more do we truly need?

Shabbat shalom. Chag Sameach. Happy Sukkot.

Rabbi Irwin Huberman

Tue, November 28 2023 15 Kislev 5784