This weekend marks the beginning of Chag Sukkot. Next week, students at Heschel will observe the mitzvah of לישב בסוכה (Leishev Basukkah) — to dwell in the sukkah; each class will have an opportunity to spend time in and learn in the sukkah. At this time of year, our language arts curriculum throughout the school focuses on writing poetry, learning about metaphors, symbolism, and personification. These literary techniques are well suited to the holiday of Sukkot which is rich in metaphor and symbolism. The sukkah symbolizes home and dwelling, while at the time it represents vulnerability and exposure. The lulav and etrog also have many symbolic meanings. According to one interpretation, the parts of the lulav symbolize parts of the human body associated with particular qualities. The tall palm is the spine that symbolizes straightforwardness and honesty; the hadas is shaped like eyes and represents vision; the aravot look like lips and represent speech; the etrog is shaped like a heart and symbolizes compassion. In Jewish life, not only do we contemplate and gain inspiration through symbols and metaphors, we actually live and enact them. Through the mitzvah of sitting in the sukkah we bring ourselves to a heightened sense of appreciation of our warm, safe and protective dwellings, as well as of our various vulnerabilities. We even welcome vulnerability by inviting “guests” both actual and metaphorical into our dwellings and our consciousness. Through the mitzvah of netillat lulav (waving the lulav), we bring all elements of the lulav and etrog together and thus remind ourselves to integrate our abilities (vision, speech) with our feelings (compassion) and our ethics (honesty). When we do both mitzvot at the same time we practice being integrated human beings — aware, compassionate, committed — in the midst of a dwelling that both protects us and opens us to the world.
As we enter into the beautiful Chag of Sukkot, may we all be blessed simultaneously with protection and vulnerability so as to be caring and compassionate, clear sighted and honest.
I look forward to seeing you all at our school sukkah this Sunday as we hold our Welcome Back Breakfast and Sukkah decorating event.
Chag Sukkot Sameach,