Sukkot [Feast of Tabernacles] is one of the most family oriented Jewish festivals. For those who observe it, it is a special experience to sit inside the Sukkah [the festive hut], eat and sing together, and celebrate the family gathering.
But Sukkot also has a profound spiritual meaning, and judging by the coronavirus closure instructions, it seems as though our reluctance to observe it on that level has made us, in a sense, “unworthy” of celebrating it as we are used to. The spiritual meaning of Sukkot has to do with the quality of our relationships.
Like all other Jewish holidays, Sukkot symbolizes a phase in our transition from people who are inclined toward singularity, to people who practice and advocate solidarity. The people of Israel “inaugurated” their nationhood when they committed to love each other “as one man with one heart,” and the Jewish holidays detail the process of achieving this goal.
According to tradition, the sechach, the roof of the Sukkah, must be made of the waste of granary and winery. This waste, the things we toss away, symbolizes the values we naturally rate as less essential for our success in life, for our singularity, namely pro-social values. Traits such as giving, caring, empathy, solidarity, mutual responsibility, and other such values that make social life possible usually come last in our list of priorities, after we have satisfied our personal ambitions, which we never do. However, for solidarity, for creating a solid and sustainable society, they are the most important.
Making the sechach particularly from those usually discarded elements means we invert our values and transform ourselves from self-centered individuals into caring and empathetic people. Putting these values over our heads, so to speak, represents the inversion of our values.
It seems like today these ideals are precisely what we need in order to mitigate the raging anger that has spread throughout society. Perhaps if we adopted these values in our lives year-round, we wouldn’t have to celebrate Sukkot with only our conjugal families.
I wish for all of us to embrace these values of Sukkot so we can make for ourselves a better world, a safer future, and a happier life altogether.