Yom Shlishi, 27 Tishri 5778
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Shalom chaverim,

The Hebrew months of Tishre and Cheshvan celebrate the bounty of harvest, a new year of Torah study, and precious relationship we share with nature. The austerity of our High Holy Days has come to a close, and now it is time to roll up our sleeves and get our hands dirty, step outside and enjoy a holiday under the stars, Sukkot. On Simchat Torah, we take the Torah out of its sacred dwelling in the mishkan and carry it throughout our congregation in song and dance. If Yom Kippur was about dressing up in pure white, fasting, and acknowledging God’s great power in the universe, these coming weeks celebrate being in this world. We step outside, under the stars, and feel that deep, and intimate connection with God through the cycles of nature which sustain us and bring us new life each year.

On Sukkot, we perform the mitzvah of welcoming “ushpizin”, noble guests, into our sukkah. The inspiration for this practice stems back to many stories of Abraham and Sarah’s hospitality in the desert. In Genesis Chapter 18, Abraham encounters three strangers on a hot and dusty day. They come to the entrance of his tent and Abraham greets them by bowing all the way to the ground. He invites the strangers to drink and bathe with his water, rest by the trees, and feast on freshly baked loaves, cheese and milk. Abraham’s model of hospitality inspires the mitzvah today of extending an invitation to new friends and the needy into each and every Sukkah. We are commanded this month to share our bounty, to share that experience of intimacy and nourishment cultivated from this special holiday under the stars.

Each Sukkot, I have invited new friends to my own Sukkah, and in turn I have been invited as one of the Ushpizin at a Sukkot dinner. These experiences inevitably lead to unexpected conversations and the building of new bridges. Two years ago, I found myself in the home of a family of ba’alei t’shuva, Jews who became orthodox as adults. Our conversation somehow strung together topics like music, cooking, politics, literature, spiritual growth, Torah, and family life all under one schach, the palm-leaf roof of a Sukkah. Last year, I learned about the Israeli custom of sharing assorted dried fruits as I sat in a sukkah with new friends from Jerusalem, Warsaw, Argentina, the UK and the US. I joined Rabbi Sam and our classmates at Kibbutz Gezer for Simchat Torah, dancing with our Torah scrolls deep in the forests at the heart of Israel.

Sukkot reminds us to joyfully embrace other beings and the natural world around us. This “simcha” comes to its height at the end of the holiday, when we celebrate Simchat Torah, a holiday which brings the joy of study to the communal festivities which have been building momentum all month. Of course, this is one of the qualities of Jewish tradition that I love most, the seamless connection between community, joy and learning, which share such interconnected roles in our Jewish spiritual lives. We grow as individuals and as communities when we joyfully connect with old friends and new friends and when learn to see and appreciate the world with more depth, nuance, and beauty.

I look forward to joining Shir Ami this year for these celebrations of new friendships, old friendships, and the sacred words of Torah that bring us together this month. Chag sameach and as we say on Simchat Torah, chazak chazak v’nitchazek! Be strong, be strong, and we will be strengthened.

Your student rabbi,

Mira Weller

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