Fort Mill Times

Sukkot: Remembering older, harder times

It seems to me that the best dinner gatherings end up in the kitchen. People gathered together, sitting, standing, leaning on any available space. The glorious smells of a meal permeate through all of this and conversation ranges widely.

Relaxed folks talk over each other, and laughing, share in a joyous cacophony of togetherness. There is no pressure to be perfect, making those special times.

The upcoming Jewish Feast of Booths, also known as Sukkot, is designed to be such an occasion. This weeklong harvest festival begins at sunset Oct. 8 this year. It is celebrated outdoors in a makeshift booth open on one side and a roof of branches with enough gaps to see the stars above. Meals are served outdoors in this hut, with guests encouraged and expected. Prayers can be sung and conversation can flow, lit by companionship and late summer fireflies.

These communal gatherings deepen relationships and lead us along the pathway to more a meaningful, connected faith.

Sukkot, one of the happier activities mandated in Leviticus, begins five days after Yom Kippur. As an ancient, harvest festival, it is drastically different from the solemnity of Yom Kippur. Sukkot also serves to commemorate the 40 year span of desert-wandering by the Jews, after they left Egypt and before entering Israel.

Sukkot lasts eight days, and coming so closely after Yom Kippur, is an opportunity to practice the additional forgiveness gained on that day. During Sukkot, a daily blessing is recited over the Lulav (a frond of myrtle, willow and date palm) and the Etrog (a citron) in all four directions and over one's head. It can seem a bit awkward to recite this blessing each day. But when the blessings are viewed as simply giving thanks for the abundance that is our life, the Etrog and Lulav take on a special significance and serve as a quiet exhibition of faith.

It is a joyous season to celebrate with the community, as we start a new year.

Sukkot is not a particularly flashy celebration; No great ram's horns echo thru this holiday. As some rabbis have observed, Sukkot marks not a destination, but more of a journey towards a goal. For ancient Jews, that journey was reaching Israel. For contemporary Jews, the journey can be more about achieving peace. As a communal celebration, Sukkot brings people together with the Divine. It serves as memory of older, harder times, and can be a milepost for our current path.

At its simplest, Sukkot has the power to stir something universal in all of us. Sharing blessings, a good meal with our community, in a place without doors. Where you only need an upward glance at the stars and heavens above to be reminded of the greatness and holiness surrounding us all. It is a setting for giving thanks for what we have and who we are.

More important than the little booth itself, Sukkot brings together the shelter of community and faith. Where there is no expectation of perfection, but an openness and a willingness to share together. Like life, Sukkot can be vaguely chaotic, and that vitality of community is to be treasured.