Shabbat Evening Service
From the desk of Rabbi David Lyon
Sukkot is one of my favorite holidays. Also called Zeman Simchatienu, the “Season of our Joy,” Sukkot is purposely joyful to follow Yom Kippur’s solemn mood. In Leviticus 23:40ff, we learn to spend time in a sukkah, take up the four species (etrog, palm, willow, and myrtle) and “rejoice before God.” Today, rejoicing with branches from trees can’t compete with things that light up, buzz, and transform. But, we do it anyway.
Each of us is instructed to take up the four species and participate in the celebration. In their teaching, the rabbis help us see ourselves in the celebration, too. After all, the holiday isn’t about tree branches. It’s about celebrating our relationship with God. By way of an analogy, the rabbis equate Torah knowledge with edible fruit, namely, palm and etrog; and (mitzvah) good deeds with a sweet aroma, namely, myrtle and etrog. Only the willow branch has neither edible fruit nor sweet aroma. And, they taught, there are four kinds of people: those like the etrog, who have Torah knowledge and no good deeds; the myrtle, with good deeds, but no Torah knowledge; the palm, with Torah knowledge, but no good deeds; and the willow, with no Torah knowledge and no good deeds.
At our best, we are like the etrog, with Torah knowledge and good deeds. And, yet, in the same way that we hold the four species in a cluster, we also bind ourselves to a community of people. The rabbis teach us that the Jewish people can never be destroyed as long as we’re bound together. The best among us may support those who have not yet found their way to Torah knowledge or even good deeds. Weakness is balanced by strength; transgressions are balanced by good deeds. Together, we overcome and prosper.
When we live in community and bind ourselves to others we find the strength we need to overcome almost anything. In addition, our rabbis assure us that when we are part of the community we can master our worst inclinations and derive benefit. Therefore, wholeness and goodness are possible. Repentance at this season is complete. Not alone, but in company with others we find our strength and our blessing.
On Sunday evening, Sukkot begins. On Monday morning, we’ll observe Festival Services at 10:30am in the Gordon Chapel. Our Sukkah are ready. A Sukkah for Shlenker School is standing proudly on the playground where the children will eat their lunches, too; and a beautiful Sukkah awaits us all in the Sukkah Courtyard between the Margolis Gallery and the Schachtel Library. There’s room for everyone. The following week, on Sunday, October 23rd, we’ll celebrate Simchat Torah (Joy of Torah) and Consecration for our youngest children at 6:00pm in the sanctuary. It’s the time of year when we end the reading of Torah with the last words of Deuteronomy, and begin again immediately with the first few words of Genesis. We’ll take all the Torahs from the Aron Kodesh (Holy Ark) and dance with them. Won’t you make this hour part of your family celebration? If you’ve never held or danced with a Torah, this is your time.
On October 24th, Yizkor memorial services will be observed at 10:30am in the Gordon Chapel. Everyone is welcome.
From my family to yours, Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach, Happy Sukkot!