Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Sukkot and the taste of shacks

Sukkot and the taste of shacks

The Feast of the Booths - Sukkot\סוכות - will start on Wednesday night, i.e. six days after the Day of Atonement. It is a kind of "settling and in-between wandering” and similarly “some end-of-time" period of seven days that climax on the eightth and last day, Shemini Atzeret\שמיני עצרת, the day of the "full Assembly” joyously gathered together to praise the One God Who reigns over the entire creation.

Wandering times: our lives are a common human, animal and vegetal pilgrimage; it deals with a development on constant changes. Jews as humans have been drifted throughout history to reaching their homeland. Their fate has often caused the communities to implode or to be removed from the neighboring regions, everywhere in the world till the ends of the earth. The “sukkah\סוכה or booth/shack” is a special place overshadowed with branches and twigs that "enlighten - sakhakh\סכך" all the believers. Light is shining till dusk in order to spread enough shadow in daytime; normally, as the building of the booths is related to time commandments, it mainly concerns men. Say that women are not tied to comply with the commandment, though it is evident that everybody does meet in these simple shelters. It is maybe possible to say that women "symbolize" homes and shelters and a place for birthing and growth before delivery. These are the places in/under which the Jewish people firstly read the Scripture, manducate the Talmud words, discuss spiritual issues, eat, drink, sleep in a sort of good-natured and jovial atmosphere.

It is said that seven ushpizin\אושפיזין - special guests may show during this wandering period that recalls the time when the first crops of Nissan end and are simultaneously renewed by the time of the harvest Automnal crops in the Land of Israel. Sukkot\סוכות is the perfect feast for a full ingathering at different levels: Jews come together for moments of rejoicing. God sheltered His children under the sukkot and thus protected them. He gave them His assistance by providing food, nurturing them and making them thirsty for more understanding of His projects in the new year.New year is not "automatic"; we cannot understand the projects of Divine Providence in a glimpse. God is a pedagogue and tries to teach His people on a move.

The special ushpizin\אושפיזין (guests) are usually considered to be Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron and David. According to various traditions, other guests might be present as Prophet Elijah and some other famous rabbis. It is indeed significant that the visible and invisible world encounter in a temporary shelter overshadowed by God's Shechinah\שכינה, Divine Presence for a time of joy, to learn and have some keyf-fun in flimsy housings. During these very special days, we are joyfully invited to share all our human capacities: knowledge, food, friendliness, hospitality, good mood, pardon, patience, politeness and humor. We are asked to welcome anybody, in particular the needy. This aspect is very striking as a lot of people are impoverished and funds are collected to nourish individuals and families in need.

This is why the mitzvah/commandment to take the “arbaa minim\ארנעה מינים – Four Species” is so meaningful in the way we are able to enhance our relationships, our socializing abilities. Groups often fragment or split into small cells that can be very connected but may appear to be reluctant to agree upon this kind of ingathering for the sake of a project viewed as a year that mainly depends upon God’s will.

The Four Species are vegetals and thus belong to the basic realm of plants and seeds, crops and harvesting.

The lulav-לולב/palm is rigid and flexible, hadassim-הדסים/myrtle can be appealing as seductive eyes and the etrog/citrus is as big as a good heart full of love and knowledge while the aravot-ערבות/willow branches requires a lot of water to survive. Fragrances are very significant: the etrog-אתרוג/citrus is tasty, smells good and had a nice appearance.

Each man holds in his hands the "whole of the Community of Israel". The Talmudic Treaty Sanhedrin insists on the "oneness" of Jewish people and that each individual is responsible for the soul (life) of all the others. Then, the weaving of the Four Species to the East, South, West, North, up and down (one tradition) shows how everybody praises the Only-One God Who is present everywhere.

Over the past decades, some new habits appeared in Israel: Christian groups – mainly of Western and Protestant backgrounds – come up to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Sukkot that does not exist in the Eastern Orthodox and Catholic or standard Christian traditions. Sukkot is indeed the Feast – Hechag-החג, par excellence also in the Gospel: “On the last day, the great day of the festival, Jesus stood and cried out: “… as Scripture says, “From His heart shall flow streams of living water.” (John 7:38).

The Feast of the booths is also clearly mentioned as Jesus’ transfiguration at Mount Tabor. He shone with a very white and unusual light and the disciple Shimon-Peter, seeing him discussing with Moses and Elijah in their tents, suggested to build him also a shelter (sukkah\סוכה) (Matthew 17:2). There is an interesting point that passes from a certain comparison between the Jewish shack hospitality and the Christian Eastern orthodox conception of “icon”.

An icon is a flat painting without depth (in order to comply with the commandment of "Not to do any pesl-פסל/sculpture"of reknown saints in different situations. Some of them can “host” many saints who lived in different centuries. This is somehow connected with the full ingathering celebrated during the Feast of the Tabernacles.

Sukkot is a "time-related" feast: Talmud Sukka 52a-b describes how, during the Feast, the Mashiah ben David should appear in glory. It is a "second coming" after the first coming of the Mashiach ben Yosef, the suffering Messiah. At the present, we may feel that our days are counted and though extend at the same time. Our hours, weeks, months and years expand and distend, dilate toward personal and civil, national and international developments.

We are often too much under pressure. We may also try to compact time as if the future and good things were out of hand. It is quite a real challenge to gather in for a special time that connects with God the whole of history and humankind. It allows us to be still alive in order to become, God willing, the tasty cream of the crops.

Av Aleksandr (Winogradsky Frenkel)