Sukkot: From spiritual to physical

I love how Judaism always insists we get straight back on with life. We've had time to think, to look internally, to change. And as soon as Yom Kippur is over, we're straight into the physicality of preparing for Sukkot (the Feast of Tabernacles/ Booths).
After a month of reflection in Ellul, followed by ten days of repentance and a day of atonement when we afflict our souls (following Leviticus 23), the first mitzvah one is supposed to perform once yom kippur is over, is beginning to erect the sukkah - the temporary booth that from tonight we will be hoping to enjoy our meals in (rain permitting). Sukkot is in many ways the antithesis of yom kippur - it is very much about the physical (building, shaking, eating) and best shared with friends.
This structure of time ensures we have space to reflect, to work to improve ourselves, but we are not encouraged to navel gaze for too long. We have to get on with living, with being present in this world, with making a difference, and with demonstrating we have changed. This is not unique to this time of the year; similarly Jewish mourning rituals give us time to really grieve and remember, so that we might be better prepared to return to the world and take a full and active role in living, hence honouring the memory of those no longer with us.
Yet while we are being active and physical, we are also reminded that we are not in charge of things. I might (and do) spend hours erecting and decorating our temporary second home, making it cosy and spangly. But I don't get to decide if I eat out there. There is a power (God, Nature...) greater than I that decides if it is wet or dry, and if we can fulfill the mitzvah or not. We are at the whims of the weather, and so is the sukkah. A strong wind can take it down, and so the sukkah is also a reminder of our vulnerability and reliance on the world around us.
But I hope this year you do have the pleasure of enjoying a meal in a sukkah, of feeling a little closer to that world which we strive to make the most of, and that your yom kippur has wrought change that you feel is real and will make a difference in the coming year.

If you'd like to read a little bit more on sukkot, I wrote on it and our obligation to feed the hungry for last weeks Jewish News. (p.17 of the electronic version, 12 in print).


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