Sukkot: A Spiritual Connection to our Environment
By: Ilana Ungar, Pearlstone JOFFEE Fellow
As our fields are at the height of abundance and our days filled with sunshine we reach a joyful holiday, our Jewish harvest festival, Sukkot. On the full moon of Tishrei we celebrate the season’s bounty, pray for rain, rejoice in our Sukkah commemorating rituals that give us spiritual, emotional and physical sustenance.
Traditionally for seven days and seven nights people gathered in community to eat and sleep in Sukkot. It is a time for us to be connected to nature not only through the bounty of our fields but also through sleeping among the stars. It is a time for us to take a step back from our busy fast paced, technology filled lives and to reconnect with ourselves, our community and our natural world. I grew up not having a deep connection to Sukkot and its earth-based connection, so I am excited this year to truly immerse myself in our tradition.
As we build our Sukkah in community, we build our roof (s’khakh) of anything that grows from the ground and has not been manufactured into something new. Symbolically how our structure is built represents the connection between nature and our man-made world. Our sukkah teaches us to find comfort in the vulnerability of the natural world and to witness all its beauty. Our Sukkah connects hearts, minds and souls to the stars, rain and holy winds that breathes all life.
The Torah states: “On the first day, you shall take the first fruit of hadar (goodly) trees (an etrog or citron), branches of palm trees (lulav), boughs of leafy trees (hadassim) and myrtle, and willows of the field (aravot), and you shall rejoice before the Lord thy God seven days” (Leviticus 23:40). These four species represent the beauty and bounty of the land of Israel’s harvest. Each of these four species represent the Earth’s primary habitats (desert, mountains, lowland and river). We wave our four species in the four directions of the wind: around us, above and below us, and inward towards us. Something very interesting is that these four species are the thirstiest plants in their bioregional zone in Israel. Is this a coincidence? I think not! During Sukkot, we pray for rain for our next harvest season. What might this rain represent? Even the thirstiest among us should have enough. I ask you to think about what is going to sustain you for the next year? Sustain us a Jewish community? And sustain mother nature?
I invite you to take time this Sukkot think about what it means to be living in a time of global climate change and uncertainty. Let us connect to ourselves, our environment and our community. Let us rejoice in our bounty not only inwards but outwards, intentionally pray for rain and the healing of mother nature and reconnect to the basic fact that mother nature gives us all we need.
Traditionally the elements in the lulav are grown in Israel. But, you can make your own Maryland-local lulav with natural elements found right at Pearlstone, complete with cattails, wild grass, willow leaves and black walnuts. Bring your family and friends to Pearlstone on September 30 for HARVEST: Family Farm Festival and reconnect with nature this Sukkot!
Pearlstone is an Agency of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, located at 5425 Mt. Gilead Rd in Reisterstown, MD. At Pearlstone, you can Retreat, Farm, Learn & Celebrate! Visit us at pearlstonecenter.org
JOFFEE (Jewish Outdoor, Food and Environmental Education) fellowship is supported by the Jim Joseph Foundation, in partnership with Pearlstone Center, Urban Adamah, and Wilderness Torah; and local funders and organizations in communities throughout North America.