One of my favorite things about living in Israel is celebrating Jewish holidays with the entire nation. Every year during the holiday season buses flash signs wishing everyone a “shana tova,” a good (new) year, in recognition of the holiday of Rosh Hashanah. Pharmacies offer natural remedies to help people with the fast of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Grocery stores promote apples and honey, traditional food to usher in a sweet year. And the lines in the supermarkets – don’t even ask!
Right now, Jews around the world have gone through the Jewish New Year and the Day of Atonement. This week, we begin the Feast of Tabernacles, or Sukkot. Millions of sukkot, biblical booths, already dot Israel’s landscape. On balconies, in backyards, and even in stores – you can find sukkot almost anywhere. The feeling in the air is festive as the entire country gets ready for the third holiday of the month.
The holidays are a wonderful and busy season in Israel. They take us on a journey that brings us closer to God.
Beginning on Rosh Hashanah, we focus on the spiritual aspects of our lives. We spend the days in passionate prayer, profound introspection, and preparing for meaningful changes. By the time Yom Kippur begins, we are ready to completely separate from our physical lives. For example, we don’t eat or drink, wear nice leather shoes, or bathe on this day. It is a day completely about prayer, Bible study, and repentance.
During Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we reach towards the heavens. But after all of that prayer, purification, sanctification, and spirituality, we need to bring godliness down here to earth. We build a sukkah, which is rooted in this world, and we say, “God, this is Your dwelling here.”
On the High Holy Days, we are able to go up to God’s throne of glory through prayer and fasting. But after that, we have to come back down and bring God’s glory into this world.
Some of my family’s best memories are made in the sukkah. We sleep in the sukkah, eat in the sukkah, and enjoy time with friends in the sukkah. It reminds us that in this modern world where we have so many things that make us feel safe – strong homes, powerful cars, amazing technology, house alarms, unbreakable locks – ultimately, we are at God’s mercy. We step into the sukkah with faith and subject ourselves to the elements, trusting that God will protect us in His shelter.
This is how we bring God’s glory down to earth – by trusting in Him and by sharing our faith with others. We open our sukkah to others, like Abraham and Sarah opened their tent. This year I’ll be hosting a young mother with cancer as well as her family. I’m also hosting a friend who is a single father and has nowhere else to go. Before leaving synagogue, my husband and I will check to see if anyone else needs a place for the holiday meals. We bring godliness into the world when we share what we have with others in need.
And somehow, when we share, we also receive. With all of our guests in our sukkah, we join in singing, celebration, and thanksgiving. We receive so much joy. Together we bring God’s holiness into our sukkah and into our lives for the entire year to come.
May our year be blessed and our lives reflect God’s glory!