Friday, October 2, 2020 /14 Tishrei, 5781
Parashat Yom Rishon shel Sukkot Leviticus 23:33–44
This evening, the joyous holiday of Sukkot begins. We will celebrate with virtual Sukkah nights, opportunities to visit the Sukkah and shake the lulav and etrog, and festive prayer. Since its origins center around the fall harvest, part of our celebration includes eating delicious fruits, vegetables, and dishes such as the ones listed here.
The Torah tells us three times to rejoice on Sukkot, but not every aspect of Sukkot relates to celebration. “The joy of Sukkot is offset by a pervasive concern about water,” explains JTS Chancellor Emeritus Ismar Schorsch. “As we give thanks for the harvest just completed, we begin to worry about the bounty of the next one.” Since rain rarely falls in Israel between Passover and Shavuot, we acknowledge how miraculous it is that the produce we enjoy on Sukkot came to fruition. We pray that there will be enough rain in the winter to sustain next year’s crops as well.
On Sukkot, we shake the lulav and etrog. As it turns out, each of the four species represented comes from a different habitat in Israel. The lulav (palm branch) comes from the desert, while the Hadas (myrtle) comes from the mountains. Aravot (willow) comes from rivers or streams, and the etrog comes from the lowlands. Each of these symbols needs the most water of all the special that grow in its region. In shaking the lulav and etrog, we give thanks for the rain that made their existence possible, and we pray that next year we will be so lucky. That is why we have traditionally marked Sukkot by adding a prayer for rain to our worship.
Underlying our celebration is an acknowledgment of how vulnerable we are to the weather. This vulnerability is even more apparent as climate change causes severe storms and creates opportunities for wildfires to flourish.
As I write this, thousands of California residents have been displaced from their homes due to the horrific wildfires plaguing the West, including over 12,000 Valley residents. Many of them have no place to go and have little to nothing in their possession. If it is within your means, please consider donating to Napa Valley Community Foundation, to help the people who have been displaced by the most recent fires.
Even though it is traditional to add a prayer for rain to our prayers starting next week, we have decided to add them a week early. We pray that rain will soon arrive to lend some relief to people who are hurting. As we do, let us pledge to do all we can to fight against climate change. On this holiday of joy, we give thanks for the blessings we have. Let us also continue to do what we can to create a healthy world for the future.
Rabbi Cassi Kail