Former Chief Rabbi Lord SacksRabbi Dr. Sacks was Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth 199-2013 and a member of the House of Lords since 2009. He has authored many books on Judaic thought, appears regularly in the British media and has kindly allowed us to post his essay on the Sabbath Torah reading each week as well as other sermons.
Succot is a complex set of variations on the theme of life: life stripped of all illusions of security. It tells us that home, like immortality, is in how we live, not where or for how long. It is a festival of a people who have known more starkly than any other that the canopy of faith is the only shelter we have. And it is no small testimony that we can gather beneath its shade, and sing." - Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks
I don't know about you but when I sit in a Sukkah I think to myself: that is how our ancestors lived.
Not just in the desert in the days of Moses, but for most of the twenty centuries of exile, not knowing from one year to the next whether they'd still be there, or whether they'd be forced to move on, as Jews were so often.
Between 1290 when they were expelled from England and 1492 when they were expelled from Spain, Jews knew what it was like to have no fixed home: to know that the place you were living was just a temporary dwelling, which is what a sukkah is.
Yet what did they call Sukkot? That is the strange thing. They called it zeman simchtenu, the time of our rejoicing.
Somehow Sukkot decodes for us the secret of joy. Joy doesn't come from great houses of brick or stone; it doesn't come from what we shut out but from what we let in. Joy comes from a roof open to heaven, a door open to guests, and a heart open to thanksgiving.
Ben Zoma was right when he said: who is rich? Not one who has everything he wants but one who celebrates what he has. Sukkot is one of the world's great seminars in happiness, because it shows us that you can sit in a shack with only leaves for a roof, exposed to all the hazards of the cold, wind and rain and yet still rejoice, when you are surrounded by God and the people you love. Have that and you have everything.
In case you missed it over Yom Kippur, Letters to the Next Generation 2: Reflections on Jewish Life is a collection of reflections written by the Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks to two fictional students, Ruth and Michael. Addressing questions such as why be Jewish, themes of Judaism such as prayer, faith and ritual, and topics such as antisemitism and Israel, this booklet has also been published as an e-book and is available to download for iPhone, iPad and Kindle from the iTunes and Kindle stores. Alternatively, you can download a PDF copy of the book by clicking here.