What Are We To Make of Sukkos Today?

Tonight we begin our Sukkos celebration. Of all the Jewish holidays, Sukkos is the most anachronistic. It is a harvest festival, it was marked by sacrifices on behalf of the Nations of the World, the highlight of the holiday was a libation ceremony in the Temple, we still sit in huts that resemble huts people actually used to used, and we still wave four particularly Middle Eastern species of vegetation. Not to mention the very recent innovation of Simchas Torah.

When one looks for divrei Torah on the holiday it’s slim pickings. There is no Hagaddah. There is no special prayer book. There is no magnificent event or overt miracle that is being celebrated either.

Rabbis inevitably talk about Hakhel, the unity represented by the Four Species, Koheles, or the usual metaphors associated with the Sukkah. It’s not very fertile ground.

So what are we to make of Sukkos today?

I think Sukkos speaks to the perpetuity of Judaism despite social and historical change.

Our circumstances change, but we keep plugging away. Sukkos today feels different than it felt to our ancestors. That does not matter at all. Their huts were real huts. Our Sukkahs are elaborate and quite comfortable. Their Four Species were rare and only some people had nice sets. We all have beautiful sets. We’ve taken a harvest holiday and turned it into a culmination of the High Holidays. We have managed to make Sukkos a day that focuses on more elevated concepts but the integrity of the holiday remains intact. We used to call it Zman Simchaseinu because of our bountiful harvest. Now we call it Zman Simchaseinu because we feel redeemed following our repentance of the High Holidays.

Things change but they stay the same. It seems to me that Sukkos is a model of how Judaism adapts without compromise. We do everything the Torah asks us to do as best as we can do it but it has as very different flavor. Yet, Sukkos persists and prospers. It’s a beautiful holiday full of spiritual moments, family time, and meaningful rituals.

I wish you all a beautiful holiday. People say Chag Kasher V’Sameach on Pesach. It’s equally appropriate on Sukkos. We need our Sukkah and Arba Minim to be kosher and the holiday requires us to be joyful. So I say Chag Kasher V’Sameach to you. See you after the holiday.

About the Author
Eliyahu Fink J.D. is the Rabbi at the Pacific Jewish Center | The Shul on the Beach in Venice California; Rabbi Fink is also a graduate of Loyola Law School of Los Angeles. Connect with Eliyahu Fink on Twitter, Facebook, and on his home blog at http://finkorswim.com.