Los Angeles Jewish Home's Blog

Welcome to the Season of Joy!

The day after Yom Kippur I was up on my ladder putting in place the palm branches which make up the roof covering of my sukkah, and a couple of days later I was up there again, this time to hang dried corn-cobs and gourds as decoration. Here at the Jewish Home, each campus has its own large sukkah, also beautifully decorated.

So what is this festival of Sukkot all about? A clue is given by its additional, descriptive, name. Pesach is known as the Season of our Freedom, and Shavuot is the Season of the Giving of our Torah. But Sukkot marks no such weighty event; it is simply Z’man Simchateinu, the Season of our Joy.

It is most significant for us, not in the words we pray or the stories we tell – but in the things we do. First and foremost we are taught that for the seven days of this festival we should live in a sukkah for 7 days. The essence of a sukkah is that it should be a temporary dwelling, not your usual solid home, and in particular that its roof should be made of branches or other natural material – but not so much that the sun and rain are blocked out.
For most people, “living” in a sukkah means making Kiddush there, or perhaps sharing a few meals. It is such a joyful thing to do. Thinking of the ancient teaching that the sukkah is meant to remind us of the Clouds of God’s Presence that protected our people in the Wilderness, I like to encourage my residents, in the sukkah with me, to sense themselves wrapped in God’s protective embrace. It is beautiful and powerful feeling. In that spirit, the joy of Sukkot is not hard to find.

There is another ritual on this festival that is known mainly to people who attend synagogue, though here at the Jewish Home, many of our residents practice it. I am thinking of the ritual of taking the lulav and etrog.

Our tradition tells us to take four species, a palm branch (the “lulav”), some stems of myrtle and of willow, and a fragrant relative of the lemon, an “etrog”. These are held and shaken in six directions – east, south, west and north, upwards and downwards. Whatever the origins of this practice may have been, what I feel in performing it now is not just the wonderful mystery of it, but a deep sense of peace. Some residents have said it is like touching God all round them.

I encourage you to find your way to a sukkah, and also take any opportunity to perform the ritual of the lulav and etrog. As many of us know, many of our best experiences have little to do with the rational; on the festival of Sukkot, as much as at any other time in the Jewish year, we may find that these rituals give us unexpected joy and peace.

I wish you all Chag Sukkot Sameach, a Happy Sukkot.
Rabbi Anthony Elman

Rabbi Anthony Elman Rabbi Anthony Elman serves as Rabbi of the Jewish Home's Grancell Village Campus. His professional background is multifaceted, encompassing the fields of law, social work, and psychotherapy. Rabbi Elman has been with the Home since his ordination and graduation from the Academy for Jewish Religion-California in May 2007

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