Sukkot: What’s in a name?

Rabbi Eli Solomon (courtesy)
Rabbi Eli Solomon of Friendship Circle (courtesy)

By Rabbi Eli Solomon

As we enter the last stretch of Tishrei, a month-long journey of holidays, with the arrival of Sukkot, the question arises: Why is the holiday called Sukkot?

There is a beautiful idea brought down that the sukkah, which surrounds the entire body all at once, is known as G-d’s bear hug. This year, more than most, we can use a nice, warm embrace.

However, the question remains. The mitzvah to take the four species, the lulav, etrog, myrtle branches and willow leaves, has a very special meaning as well. It represents Jewish unity. By binding the four species together, we demonstrate that no matter our differences, we are only complete when we are one. Yet the name of the holiday is not known as the four species holiday. Why is that so?

What could be more powerful than unity and togetherness?

The sukkah has a number of unique qualities. For example, the mitzvah starts the minute the holiday begins at nightfall and ends with the conclusion of the festival. The four species, by contrast, are only used the following morning.

Perhaps the most interesting component of a sukkah is the commandment to dwell in it, just as we dwell in the house the entire year. Everything we do in the sukkah, as mundane as it may be, is now a mitzvah binding us with G-d. Reading your favorite novel, a midday nap and afternoon tea are all elevated to mitzvah status!

Tishrei is not merely the first month of the Jewish calendar. In fact, it encompasses all the lessons we need for the following year, as well as the spiritual energy to execute them. When Tishrei ends, a month of connection, unity and G-dliness, we are thrust back into the world of business, meetings and deadlines. A world where divisiveness is too often the status quo, and where material success is more important than moral growth.

That is why the final message of Tishrei is the sukkah! Everything you do is linked to G-d, and every step must be infused with an awareness of his presence. Not only at synagogue or at a service, but in each and every action we take, even sleeping. The world can conceal its maker. It is our job to ensure a consciousness of G-d, not just to ourselves, but to the world at large.

To conclude, that is why the chosen name is Sukkot. The sukkah is the blueprint for reaching and achieving the unity represented in the lulav. When G-d is on the mind, we remember where we come from and who we are at our core. This brings the recognition that in essence we all are indeed truly one.

May this Sukkot bring joy, health and the ultimate unity. Chag Sameach!

Rabbi Eli Solomon is co-director of the Friendship Circle of Baltimore.

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