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Sermons

Rabbi Denise L. Eger

Sukkot Sermon

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Shabbat Shalom
This holiday of Sukkot is known as Zman Simchateinu.  Season of our rejoicing.  We are commanded to celebrate with joy and delight. Even as we enter into our simple sukkah-our simple lean to with openings in the roof to see the stars we are to rejoice and celebrate with joy during this week long festival. In ancient times it was HeChag-THE Festival. When you said it like that everyone knew you meant Sukkot. It took on even a more important celebratory feel than any other holy day.  
Author Jill SuzanneJacobs author of  “Hebrew for Dummies”  writes:

On Sukkot, we have only three obligations: to dwell in the sukkah or booth that is intended to be an impermanent structure; to wave the *four species which make up a long palm-like branch called thelulav-a combination of myrtle, palm, willow-and the esrog or lemon-like fruit; and finally to be happy and rejoice. This is in sharp contrast to observing Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur where we spend hours in the synagogue praying and contemplating, reviewing our misdeeds and vowing to change for the better. (http://www.jewishfederations.org/page.aspx?id=17188)


This is a holiday about abundance. The abundance of the harvest.  The abundance of family and friends that we welcome into the sukkah.  The abundance that we ought to recognize in our lives-not material wealth but those aspects of life that bring deep and abiding contentment and peace. A inner space of strength and confidence in life and the world and ourselves even as we live in a fragile hut, symbolizing the fragility of the world around us.

The megillah we read on this holiday the book of Ecclesisastes, traditional said to have been written by King Solomon near the end of his life offers us these words:  

24 A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, 25 for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment? 26 To the person who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness, but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

For King Solomon he recognizes that amassing wealth, my bring pleasure but in the end it is vanities, meaningless for contentment comes from being at peace with ones self and right with ones God.  

This is the message of this holy day time.  Being a fully present, actualized person who isn’t always looking over your shoulder for validation or affirmation from others. But being able to live your life with the inner peace that God loves you and made you as you are.  
The holiday of Sukkot—where we build a tabernacle of peace-is the meeting place where we meet the Divine one and our divine and holy ancestors.  We pray to welcome the ushpizin and ushpiziot to our Sukkah.  This is symbolic for us to embrace our past even as we try to find a place of shalom inside our own beings.  But we Jews do not do this alone. We do this in the context of community.  

The Unpopular Tzaddik
(http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/2618/jewish/The-Unpopular-Tzaddik.htm)
By Yerachmiel Tilles
Rabbi Pinchas of Koretz was a spiritual giant in his generation. At first, his greatness was mostly unknown to his contemporaries, but he had no regrets; indeed, it suited him just fine. He spent his days and nights in Torah-study, prayer and meditation. Rarely was he interrupted.
But then, the word began to spread, perhaps from fellow disciples of Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, that Rabbi Pinchas was very, very special. People began to visit him on a regular basis, seeking his guidance, requesting his support, asking for his prayers and beseeching his blessing. The more he helped them, the more they came. The trickle to his door became a stream and the stream became a daily flood of personal stories and requests for help.
Rabbi Pinchas was overwhelmed. He felt he was no longer serving G-dproperly, because he no longer had sufficient time to study, pray and meditate as he should. He didn't know what to do. He needed more privacy and less distraction, but how could he turn away dozens and even hundreds of people who genuinely felt that he could help them? How could he convince them to go elsewhere, to others more willing and qualified than he?
Then he had an idea. He would pray for heavenly help in the matter. Let G-d arrange it that people not be attracted to seek him out! Let G-d make him be despicable in the eyes of his fellows!
"A tzaddik decrees and Heaven agrees," they say. Rabbi Pinchas prayed and so it became. No longer did people visit him. Not only that, on those occasions when he went to town, he was met with averted heads and a chilly atmosphere.
Rabbi Pinchas didn't mind at all. Indeed, he was delighted. The old pattern was restored; rarely was he interrupted.
Then the "Days of Awe" of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur passed, and there remained only four brief busy days to prepare for the Sukkot festival. In previous years, there had always been some yeshiva students or local townspeople who were only too glad to help the pious rabbi construct hissukkah-hut. But this time, not a single soul arrived. No one liked him, and no one even thought to help him.
Not being handy in these matters, the rabbi didn't know what to do. Finally, having no choice, he was forced to hire a non-Jew to build his sukkah for him. But the hired man did not possess the tools that were needed, and Rabbi Pinchas could not get a single Jew in the neighborhood to lend him tools because they disliked him so much. In the end, his wife had to go to borrow them, and even that was difficult to accomplish due to the prevailing attitude towards her husband. With just a few hours remaining till the onset of the festival, they finally managed to complete a flimsy minimal structure.
As the sun slid between the forest branches and the Rebbetzin lit the festive candles, Rabbi Pinchas hurried off to shul. Despite his solitary ways, he always made a point to attend the congregational prayers on the holidays; besides he didn't want to miss the opportunity to acquire a guest for the festival meal, something so integral to the essence of the holiday.
In those days in Europe, people desiring an invitation to a meal would stand in the back of the shul upon the completion of the prayers. The householders would then invite them upon their way out, happy to so easily accomplish the mitzvah of hospitality. Rabbi Pinchas, unfortunately, did not find it so simple. Even those without a place to eat and desperate for an invitation to a sukkah in which to enjoy the festival meal, turned him down without a second thought. Eventually, everyone who needed a place and everyone who wanted a guest were satisfied, except for the tzaddik, Rabbi Pinchas.
He trudged home alone, saddened and a bit shaken up at the realization that he might never have another guest, not even for the special festive meal of the First Night of Sukkos. Alas, that too was part of the price of his freedom.... It was worth it, wasn't it?
Pausing just inside the entrance to his sukkah, Rabbi Pinchas began to chant the traditional invitation to the Ushpizin, the seven heavenly guests who visit every Jewish sukkah. Although not many are privileged to actually see these exalted visitors, Rabbi Pinchas was definitely one of the select few who had this experience on an annual basis. This year, he raised his eyes and saw the Patriarch Abraham--the first of the Ushpizin and therefore the honored guest for the first night of the festival--standing outside the door of the sukkah, keeping his distance.
Rabbi Pinchas cried out to him in anguish: "Father Abraham! Why do you not enter my sukkah? What is my sin?"
Replied the patriarch: "I am the embodiment of Chessed, serving G-d through deeds of loving-kindness. Hospitality was my specialty. I will not join a table where there are no guests."
The crestfallen Rabbi Pinchas quickly re-ordered his priorities. He prayed that everything be restored to as it had been, and that he should find favor in the eyes of his fellows exactly as before. Again his prayer was answered. Within a short time, throngs of people were again finding their way to his door; seeking his guidance, asking his support, requesting his prayers, and beseeching his blessing. No longer could he devote all or even most of his time to his Torah-study, his prayer, and to his meditation. But thanks to his holy Sukkot guest, this was no longer seen as a problem.

Biographical Note: 
Rabbi Pinchas Shapiro of Koretz (1726-1791) was considered to be one of the two most pre-eminent followers of the Chassidism's founder, RabbiIsrael Baal Shem Tov (along with Rabbi Israel's successor the Maggid of Mezritch).


Reb Pinchas learned the hard way-even something as admirable as Torah study cannot be the sole antidote to life.  Our lives are lived in the context of people. Isolation is not a good thing. A our sukkah –our place of peace-is not a cave to hide from the world, in isolation but only a place of peace with others. A place of simple encounter –the encounter with the Divine and humanity.  As Martin Buber the Jewish philosopher might put it –a place for an I – Thou relationship.  The simple sukkah, no McMansion is a place of simple beauty-so that the beauty of relationship can take root in the shared meal, the shared conversation that is without distraction of things and material wealth.  The way we beautify the mitzvah of sukkah-is by inviting guests to share in this simple striking way of being for the week.  The concept of beautifying a mitzvah is known as Hiddur Mitzvah.  Glorifying or beautifying everything we do in service of the Divine Holy One.  That is why we decorate our simple booth.  That is why we buy a beautiful and unblemished etrog.  
Here is a lesson about the importance of what real beauty is in Jewish tradition.  The beauty of the Jewish people acting together.   
Hidur Mitzvah.—the glory of the mitzvah.


A Beautiful Etrog

(http://www.meaningfullife.com/torah/holidays/1c/Sukkot_Stories.php)

Each Sukkot morning, after performing the mitzvah of taking the “Four Kinds,” the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, would allow all who wished to do so to use his lulav and etrog. Many chassidim availed themselves of the opportunity, though they had a set of “Four Kinds” of their own, regarding it as a great privilege to perform the mitzvah with their Rebbe’s set.
One day, after the Rebbe’s etrog was returned to him bruised and stained from being handled by hundreds of hands, one of his chassidim said to him: “Why do you allow so many people to use your etrog? Look at what has happened to it! It has lost its hiddur (beauty)!” [1]
“Why,” replied Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak, “this is the most beautiful etrog in the world! What greater hiddur can there be for an etrog than the fact that hundreds of Jews have performed a mitzvah with it?”

The beauty is in the simplicity. In the sharing. In the people.  That is what makes this zman simchateinu-season of our joy.  The simple joy of being with those you care about.  Make sure you enjoy friends and family this week. For they are what really count.