An idea for Sukkot

This post is dedicated in memory of Etya Sarah bat Yitzchak ha-Levi. May it be an aliyah for her neshama. 

By Shayna Hulkower

It's holiday season, if you are Jewish. The 'High Holidays' of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are barely behind us, but already we come to our next festival: Sukkot. Without looking at a calendar, one always knows Sukkot is approaching by the increasing number of Sukkas (plural being Sukkot) popping up in Jewish neighborhoods all over the world. Even though Sukkot only happens once a year, it's actually with us every night, whether we realize it or not!

Every night, in the evening, maariv, prayers, we ask G-d to spread over us His 'sukkah of peace'? Rabbi Dessler writes that sukkot are temporary dwelling places - mere huts that are transient in nature and a reminder that we are only in this world temporarily. Sukkot are the antithesis of everything society tends to value: expensive vacations, luxury goods, expensive restaurant meals. All things that feel nice, but as the old saying goes, "You can't take it with you".  All material success in this world, while not to diminish its importance in life, is transient in nature and causes strife amongst people. There is the need to feel like you are 'keeping up with the Jones' - your neighbors have a new car so it's natural to want a new car too. You see people on television with large homes and of course who wouldn't want more space. But the longing for things we don't have breeds jealousy and contempt, which ultimately erode friendships.

Rav Dessler explains the 'sukkah of peace' is a principle where we all value spiritual and intangible things in life. It says in Pirkei Avot, The Ethics of Our Fathers, that one is not allowed to be envious of anything except if another has more Torah learning than him. You are allowed to be envious of things that are within your control and cause you to be a better person. Ultimately, money is a transient thing, coming and going often within a person's lifetime. When we value things like a person's selfless quality, hard working ethic, honesty, or other positive character traits, they similarly inspire us to want to do better in those areas. When we all are striving to be better people, not only does everyone succeed, but we are able to live in a sukkah of peace with each other. Chag sameach!

Things to do in Jerusalem over Chol Hamoed Sukkot

By: Samantha Hulkower

After the thoughtful, and oftentimes somber, mood that could be felt around Israel and Jerusalem during the period between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, the mood just a few days later for Sukkot is nothing but joy and exceitment. It is known as Zman Simchateinu - the Time of Our Joy! If you are fortunate enough to be in Israel for this special time of year, we have some suggestions for what to do over Chol Hamoed (or ideas for your trip next year!):

Birkat Kohanim: Twice a year, during Chol Hamoed Sukkot and Pesach, seemingly the whole country flocks to the Kotel Plaza in the Old City of Jerusalem for the ceremony of Pristley Blessing of the Jewish people. It's a very special time, and must be experienced by everyone at least once! The best bet is to get there early. Two blessings occur one at 9:00am and one at 10:00am, followed by an opportunity to meet the Chief Ashkenazi and Sefardic Rabbis of Israel. This year it will take place on Wednesday, October 19th.

Moshav Fest: Another Chol Hamoed tradition takes place on the Kibbutz that was once home of Rabbi Shlomo Carelebach. Since it was where the famously musical Rabbi once dwelled, it should come as no surprise that the cornerstone of the festival is live music all day long. There are also food vendors, things for sale, and a special area just for women's activities. Check out their facebook page for more information.

Simchat Beit Hashoeva: When the Temple stood, during Chol HaMoed the Kohanim would perform a special water drawing ceremony, that the whole country flocked to see. Then everyone would celebrate together with dancing and other festiveness. The tradition of joyous dancing is still carried on today. There are Simchot Beit Hashoeva (literally Rejoycing at the Place of Water Drawing) all over Jerusalem. You can walk down to Mercaz HaRav on Thursday night, October 20 at 8/8:30 pm (the Rav Kook Yeshiva in Kiryat Moshe) and see the dancing inside projected outside on a huge wall of the building. Inevitably, the dancing spills out of the yeshiva and on to the streets. Basically, you can walk down the streets of Geula or Meah Shearim and follow the music to find an event to watch.

Check out all the cool Sukkahs!: One of the main reasons to spend Sukkot in Israel, and especially Jerusalem, is the opportunity to see (and eat in!) so many different sukkahs. Not to be missed is the World's Largest Sukkah in Kikar Safra, by City Hall. There is lots of fun things to do just check out their website Fun in Jerusalem. Another event unique to Israel, is that every year the President opens his sukkah to the public. The Sukkah will be open during the intermediate days of the Festival (Tuesday through Friday) between 8:30 AM and 12:30 PM is on Hanasi Street. A tuda'at zehut or passport is required for entrance, which is free.  Also, just walk around, look around, and look up! There are many unique and interesting sukkahs all over the place. 

This is really just a taste of what Israel has to offer. We hope this provides you with a good start. Chag sameach to all!.   

Sukkot: When Every Jew Counts

This post is dedicated in merit that Hershel ben Etya Sarah have a yeshuah.

By: Samantha Hulkower

If you live in a Jewish area, you'll have noticed Sukkas going up as soon as Yom Kippur ended (around Jerusalem I noticed some being built before Rosh Hashanah!). You could get whiplash moving from a time of such deep introspection as Yom Kippur, to Sukkot, which is known in Hebrew as 'the time of our joy'.

Nothing in the Hebrew calendar is a coincidence, so if Sukkot comes less than a week after the period where we spend so much time working on our selves and mending our relationships with others, there has to be a connection.

We need look no further than the 4 species that are so symbolic of the holiday: the lulav, etrog, hadas, and aravah. When I first started learning about Sukkot I found it a little odd to put such emphasis on something that looks like it should go in a vase on the table in your sukkah, and I was even more confused once I saw people shaking it around! As I learned more, it all started to make sense. 

There is a concept brought down in the midrash (the oral portion of the Torah) that the four species correspond to the four types of Jews in the world:
  • Etrog: It is in the citrus family and looks sort of like a lemon. It has both taste and a pleasant scent. This corresponds to Jews who have both wisdom, which is defined as Torah learning (taste) and do good deeds (scent).
  • Lulav: This is a branch from a date palm, which are very tasty but have no scent. These are Jews who have wisdom, but don't use it to do good deeds.
  • Hadas: This is from a myrtle tree, which has no taste but a nice scent, and represents Jews who do good deeds, but for whatever reason, don't learn Torah.
  • Aravah: Comes from a willow tree and has no scent or taste. This is the category of Jews who are lacking in both wisdom and good deeds.
You cannot fulfill the mitzvah of shaking the four species if any one of the types of trees is missing. In addition, they all must be in pristine shape, if anything is bent or broken or has blemishes they also can't be used. This is supposed to represent the fact that all Jews are necessary for us to function as a whole. Even if you think that a particular group of Jews is deficient and lacking in something (which I'm sure you don't), G-d still says that everyone has a role to play and one group is as necessary as the other - you can't have two etrogs and no aravot if you want to do the mitzvah. It is a good reminder that we all have something of value to offer those around us, even if it isn't so evident at first.
Chag sameach!

Ushpizin: Special Guests in the Sukkah

This post is dedicated in memory of Shlomo ben Aryeh Zalman. May it be an aliyah for his neshama. 

By: Shayna Chana

There is a tradition found in the Zohar, the holy book of Kabbalistic thought, that when we dwell in our sukkahs we are joined by the "Seven Exalted Guests" - known as ushpizin in Hebrew. This is because being in the sukkah is akin to being in the Garden of Eden, and so the ushpizin go from the Garden of Eden above to the one here on Earth. These are the seven shepards that were leaders of the Jewish people in ancient times. On each of the seven days of Sukkot we are joined by a different Jewish forefather (and his wife!) in the sukkah - actually they are all there with us each day, but each day has its own 'leader' (bet you didn't realize you could fit so many guests in your sukkah!). It is a custom when entering the sukkah each day to invite the ushpizin in with a declaration in Aramaic. Sefardim take this a step further and have a separate, ornate chair waiting for the day's guest of honor. 

The ushpizin are listed below, in order of their specific day in the sukkah, along with which of their traits we are supposed to try and emulate:

Avraham Avinu was known for his chesed - loving kindness. We are encouraged to have guests in our sukkah, as Avraham was famous for having guests. G-d also famously told him to 'lech lecha' - go from your home - which is exactly what we do on Sukkot.

Yitzchak  Avinu was forced to move around Israel, being chased by various enemies, but was always secure because of his faith in G-d, just as we are supposed to be secure in our relatively unsecure (and roofless) sukkahs.

Yaakov  Avinu was known as the sefira of teferet - which is a combination of beauty and truth. We should look at the Torah as teferet - not to mention our sukkahs with all of their wonderful decorations!

Moshe Rabbeinu was the leader of the Jewish people from our captivity in Egypt through our redemption and ultimately up to the border of Israel. We should similarly strive to be faithful in our observance of G-d and mitzvot and strive to achieve our own purpose in life as Moses did!

Aaron Hakohen was the first to serve as the High Priest. Just as he served with joy and alacrity, so should we seek to live our lives.

Yosef HaTzadik remained faithful in his service of G-d, even while he was imprisoned in Egypt, still rising through the ranks to become Viceroy. So too, even while the Jews today are still in exile, we should seek to emulate Yosef and stay true to our Jewish beliefs, confidant that they will only help us to succeed in life.

Dovid Hamelech was always secure in his faith in G-d, even when being pursued by enemies and in the wilderness with no provisions. While being in the sukkah isn't the same as being in the wilderness, living in it shows that we don't need real walls and a ceiling to feel secure, since like King David, we feel G-d is always watching over us.

Enjoy your time in the Sukkah. It lasts for only one week every year, and now you'll be entertaining more guests than you may have realized!

And no discussion of Ushpizin would be complete without a mention of the famous Israeli movie Ushpizin, that takes place, unsurprisingly, over Sukkot. Enjoy!

Parshat Shavua: Haazinu

This post is dedicated in memory of Shlomo ben Aryeh Zalman. May it be an aliyah for his neshama. 

This week's Torah Portion continues the warnings we've been hearing the past few weeks: follow the mitzvot or really not good things are going to happen. This week's iteration is Haazinu, which means 'listen!'. Moshe Rabbeinu goes on for a while warning the people. It's a fiery speech, probably fueled in part with his knowledge he is going to die soon and wanting the Jewish people to remember these warnings.

Soon into his speech (which is actually considered to be a song or poem), Moshe says something interesting, "Perfect are His efforts; because all of his ways are just; faithful G-d, without injustice; righteous and straight is He."(Devarim 32:4) He then goes on to list all of the ways the Jews will eventually go astray and what will befall them. Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks comments there is more to this statement than might seem at first glance.

Why go through all the effort of saying how fair and just G-d is, going on for twice as long as the other lines in the song? Because, one should not turn around after being punished and say, "It's not fair!" G-d, if anything, is incredibly fair - even giving a person air in their lungs and energy to do sins. It's very easy for G-d to say, "You are not doing what I want, so I don't have to let you live anymore." But, that's not what G-d wants, He gave us free will so that we can earn the benefit we accrue for making the tough decisions in life, for doing what is right, especially when it's not what we want.

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur marks a time when we hope to be jolted awake, to realize the folly of our wrong ways, and to do teshuva and start the year with a clean slate. According to the Rabbis we have until Hoshanah Rabah to get on the right path. May we all merit to be awoken and be cognizant to any deviations from our intended course, to be judged favorably, and to have a sweet and blessed year!

Yashar LaChayal

Birthright Israel - Taglit

The majesty of the Western Wall