This is the Shabbat between Yom Kippur and the start of Sukkot—of course you know that. Yom Kippur was Yom HaDin—the Day of Judgment. Sukkot is Z’man Simchateynu—the Season of Our Rejoicing. Hopefully, we rejoice in anticipation of a beautiful year ahead.
Don’t you love the symbols of the Sukkot Festival: the Sukkah as a symbol of our faith and reliance on God’s protection, the “Arba Minim” –the 4 species- the etrog, the Lulav/date palm branch, the hadas/myrtle branches and the aravot/willow sprigs alternatively symbolizing the different types of people or different parts of the human body. We hold them all together to show that every person and every part of our selves should be included in devotion to God and dedication to the values espoused in the holy Torah.
Sukkot this year seems to be falling later on the solar calendar than usual. So, it is interesting to see sukkot constructed at homes adjacent to neighboring homes with Halloween decorations.
What a contrast? What an opportunity?
Sukkot is a festival of joy that celebrates life and faith. I am not entirely certain what Halloween stands for. It has become its own American fun day, so maybe it has come to have something in common with Sukkot, since Sukkot is so much fun. On the other hand, Halloween’s symbols all involve, death, unrequited spirits, evil and mischief.
Putting up and decorating a sukkah, eating meals there and having guests was always great fun at our house. It is so nice to see many more people than ever honoring the festival and performing the mitzvoth in this fashion. Interestingly, building or owning a sukkah is not a mitzvah. Dwelling in the sukkah is the mitzvah. Having guests in your sukkah is the mitzvah. The concept of communal sukkot is certainly not a foreign one and in urban areas with many apartment dwellers, such sukkot were a necessity.
One similarity (if you could call it that) between Sukkot and Halloween is that the Zohar tells us that each of our sukkot is visited by the spirit of one or more of our forebears—the Ushpizin—Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron and King David because of their character trait for which they are each known. We also welcome female Ushpizot: Sarah, Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, Abigail, Hulda, and Esther (and other variations, including Eve, Rachel, Leah, Rebecca, Ruth, and Beruriah, ). While having roots in other classic sources, this is a sign of a greater inclusivity in Jewish ritual as our traditions continue to evolve. We are to learn from each of these leaders of the past as their values will help us flourish in the future. Halloween is a holiday of spirits as well, though I am not sure they are of the same lofty variety.
It is sometimes troubling that days of meaning have been transformed into days of mercantilism. Perhaps that is a good thing in the case of Halloween which has become purely secular and a day that American Jews regularly observe. Some may have a problem with Jews participating in Halloween festivities when Jews have their own holiday with masks and costumes with perhaps better values—Purim. Some may have a problem with Halloween because of the true origins, meaning and history of Halloween, some of which are quite frightful.
Is there anything wrong with Jews participating in Halloween festivities? What about Jews that have impressive Halloween decorations, lawn displays and expand Halloween Day into a Halloween season with lights and decorations displayed for weeks before Halloween? Is there anything wrong with that?
What about Jews who do not have a sukkah at their home or do not recognize or observe sukkot in any meaningful way? Is there anything wrong with that?
What about Jews with Halloween decorations displayed during the exact time of sukkot, but have no sukkah. Is there anything with that? What if they are really expensive Halloween decorations?
What if somebody has a sukkah and decorates it using a Halloween theme? Anything wrong with a pumpkin in your sukkah? Only if it has been converted into a Jack-O-Lantern with an evil grin lit with a candle?
Has this late Sukkot created an October Dilemma like the December Dilemma that sociologists discuss?
Are there some deciding between a budget for Halloween displays vs. a budget for Sukkot? Would it be worse if Sukkot was not even a thought and Halloween decorations are a given?
I think so. I am concerned that as beautiful as Sukkot and its meaning are and as wonderful and memorable as Sukkot family experiences can be, it suffers from neglect. I fear Sukkot may be neglected because people are afraid that if they do it, they will not do it correctly or they don’t know all the rules. We have fear of embarrassment.
Halloween has no fear of embarrassment unless you choose the wrong costume.
I called this an opportunity. Sukkot is a special time for Jews to be a light and shine. It is a time for us to understand the best of our faith, its core and symbolism. It is a special time for family togetherness with meaning and purpose. It is a time to proudly display our Judaism and be able to explain the beauty of sukkot to our neighbors of all faiths.
Our community has so many resources for learning and understanding our holidays and traditions and even to get help with a sukkah of your own. Our rabbis at Adat Shalom regularly help people find sukkot for people to use or share or families to serve as hosts for Sukkot meals. I also have a spare sukkah available this year if someone would like to borrow it.
My dream is that each American Jew will spend at least as much time honoring Sukkot and participating in Sukkot activities as they do in recognizing and participating in Halloween activities and that each family will spend as much money on the symbols of Sukkot (e.g. Lulav and Etrog) as Halloween decorations, Jack-O-Lanterns and candy. My dream is that if people are making choices, their choice is Sukkot! It may include other choices, but a family’s investment in sukkot pays dividends far into the future.
If you have read this far, you deserve to know that this Shabbat we learn with Rabbi Aaron Bergman who, interestingly enough will be discussing: “How to build a palace with 2 1/2 walls, a guide to Sukkot.” As I was saying……
9:45 a.m. in the Shiffman Chapel. Come as you are. Stay as long as you like. Bring your Sukkot questions!
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameyach.