Friday, October 10, 2014

Red Moon And Sukkot: Things Are A Little Different This Year

On Wednesday morning, the red moon fell behind the horizon leaving many people turning around and watching the sun rise to begin the day. Sukkot began this week with Jews around the world embracing the history and heritage of their faith as they joined family, friends, and neighbors under the stars for the meals that punctuate the holiday (like most Jewish holidays). While we live in a largely Jewish area on the Main Line, I have seen very few reminders of the holiday around us. This is in stark contrast to the rows of temporary shelters that I would see dominating the streets of Brooklyn many years ago.

While our meals may not mean the same thing these days, there are moments that those familial moments mean much more than that which is defined by consumption in the open autumn air. It is during the beginning of this holiday when both bad news echoed in my ears and loving offers filled my mind. Again, while the meals planned will not be eaten under sun and stars, they transcend the holiday itself and will last far longer than the days marked on the calendar.

Maybe it was the red moon, but this year Sukkot is turning out to be something completely different than those of the past. It is not forgotten but at the same time I am not out eating in the Sukkah erected in the common courtyard. I am reminded of the beauty of the holiday in seeing the many impressive lines of structures but I am also embracing the fact that we can provide meals so that someone doesn’t feel as they are alone and lost in the desert. That is what brings true joy during this holiday!

While my views are by no mean traditional, they are what ties me to the holiness and joy of the holiday and my faith. Call me a bad Jew if you want but I am happy with the way we are honoring the holiday this year and how it is bringing me just a little bit closer to G-d and family. For those that need the more, by the Book, definition and mean of observance you can find what you need in the following excerpt from Judaism 101:

The Festival of Sukkot begins on Tishri 15, the fifth day after Yom Kippur. It is quite a drastic transition, from one of the most solemn holidays in our year to one of the most joyous. Sukkot is so unreservedly joyful that it is commonly referred to in Jewish prayer and literature as Z'man Simchateinu, the Season of our Rejoicing.

Sukkot is the last of the Shalosh R'galim (three pilgrimage festivals). Like Passover and Shavu'ot, Sukkot has a dual significance: historical and agricultural. Historically, Sukkot commemorates the forty-year period during which the children of Israel were wandering in the desert, living in temporary shelters. Agriculturally, Sukkot is a harvest festival and is sometimes referred to as Chag Ha-Asif, the Festival of Ingathering.

The word "Sukkot" means "booths," and refers to the temporary dwellings that we are commanded to live in during this holiday in memory of the period of wandering. The Hebrew pronunciation of Sukkot is "Sue COAT," but is often pronounced as in Yiddish, to rhyme with "BOOK us." The name of the holiday is frequently translated "Feast of Tabernacles," which, like many translations of Jewish terms, isn't very useful. This translation is particularly misleading, because the word "tabernacle" in the Bible refers to the portable Sanctuary in the desert, a precursor to the Temple, called in Hebrew "mishkan." The Hebrew word "sukkah" (plural: "sukkot") refers to the temporary booths that people lived in, not to the Tabernacle.

Sukkot lasts for seven days. The two days following the festival, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, are separate holidays but are related to Sukkot and are commonly thought of as part of Sukkot.

The festival of Sukkot is instituted in Leviticus 23:33 et seq. No work is permitted on the first and second days of the holiday. (See Extra Day of Holidays for an explanation of why the Bible says one day but we observe two). Work is permitted on the remaining days. These intermediate days on which work is permitted are referred to as Chol Ha-Mo'ed, as are the intermediate days of Passover.

Of course, for something a little different (and convenient) take a look at this instant Sukkah for the Jew on the go (and/or those that have proven to be not that handy). This bit of Israeli ingenuity can be seen here.