Cantor’s Column – November 2019

Thanksgiving – Sukkot For The Masses

Cantor Ilan Davidson

As I sit here, writing this article during the festival of Sukkot, I can’t help but ponder the similarities between OUR harvest festival and the one coming up at the end of November, for Americans. Do you know what our very first obligation is, after hearing the shofar sound at the end of Yom Kippur? Our stomachs might tell us that it is to fill them and end the fast. We are taught that the first thing we must do after ending Yom Kippur, even before eating or drinking, is to place the first nail into our sukkah. So what’s the connection? Why does this take precedence over the breaking our fast? The answer lies within the meaning of the holiday of Sukkot. Once we have finished cleansing our bodies and souls of all the missed marks from the previous year, it is time to give thanks to God for the abundance in our lives.

When I think about all of my friends who have traversed any 12-step program, I realize that even they have learned from this Jewish holiday lesson. It is not enough to admit that you have missed the mark. It is not enough to commit to not miss the mark again. In fact, without appreciating the abundance of miracles in our lives, we WILL return to our past behaviors. In 12-step programs, they call it creating a gratitude list. On Sukkot, we thank God for the fall harvest, but if we look at all the symbolism, we realize that it’s more than the harvest for which we give thanks. The sukkah reminds us of our temporary homes in the desert upon our redemption from Egypt. The celebration of the holiday with friends reminds us of the importance of community in our lives. The lulav and etrog remind us of how we use our entire body to recognize God’s presence in our lives. Therefore, Sukkot is about abundance, redemption, community, and our relationship with the Divine… our own gratitude list. Without realizing the importance of all these things in our lives, we find ourselves alone in our recovery from all that we have just repented for on Yom Kippur, and the possibility of a relapse becomes more possible and perhaps even probable.

As we celebrate the American holiday of Thanksgiving, let us not lose sight of the comparisons between this harvest festival and our own, just last month. Native Americans and even the Pilgrims understood the underlying need to celebrate the fall harvest with all of its symbolism. So, this Thanksgiving, share with your non-Jewish friends and neighbors this Jewish tradition of celebrating the abundant miracles that are our gift from God.

May we all find the power that our daily gratitude can give us to overcome our weaknesses and shortcomings, and may we celebrate how our Jewish traditions can find their way into even our secular celebrations. Kein y’hi ratzon… may this be God’s will.