Sukkot is a holiday about homes–both the permanent and temporary sort–and homelessness. It commemorates how we wandered in the desert with no protection from the elements and no fixed place we could call home, and how God gave us immediate, temporary relief from the former through the Clouds of Glory and ultimate relief from the latter by bringing us into the land of Israel.
When we remember what God did for us, we will–it is hoped–give thanks to God. But Sukkot and what it stands for should prompt us to do more. The best way to show gratitude is through action, by paying it forward. If God has done this for us, how can we do it for others?
One way for certain is to do what we can for people without housing. The need for help is all around us, and it is urgent. The rate of homelessness in major cities is alarmingly high. On a global scale, there are 7.6 million refugees from Ukraine and over 80 million refugees worldwide. Beyond those large realities, which can be hard at times to connect to, we have current realities closer to home like Hurricane Ian, which has left hundreds dead and thousands without homes. It has devastated the dwellings of both the rich and poor alike.
Disasters such as Hurricane Ian present mass-scale devastation. In the face of so much loss it can be easy to feel helpless. I understand and empathize with that feeling. But this Sukkot, let’s all try to do something. Send some money to an organization that does this work. One outstanding organization is Masbia, a non-profit soup kitchen and food pantry. Whenever there is a hurricane or tornado, they are there to provide food and support for people whose homes and lives have been uprooted by the storm. And because Masbia representatives are so visibly Jewish and Torah-observant, when they go they send a clear and strong message: This is what Jewish values demand of us. This is what it means to be fully observant.
In further resonance with the weather-related concerns of many people right now, Sukkot is deeply interconnected with rain and wind. We begin to pray for both of those things immediately at the conclusion of Sukkot.
While rain can be a blessing, we know that it can also be a curse. Shaking the lulav, according to the Rabbis, is in fact intended to prevent “bad rains and bad winds” (Sukkah 37b).
Nowadays, we know that when we wave the lulav, we are also concerned with the rising temperatures in a changing climate, which cause storms to arrive with increasing frequency.
When we wave the lulav this Sukkot, let’s think about the bad, horrific storms, and ask what we can do to slow the warming of our planet. What lulav will we shake, what action will we take, to hold back those “evil winds” just a little bit? Much as Sukkot will hopefully encourage us to address homelessness in our own small ways, shaking the lulav can also initiate positive action. This action won’t come in the form of writing a check. This will instead involve real change in our lives. I believe we can do it.