Sukkot at PBJC
“After the ingathering from your threshing floor and your vat, you shall hold the Feast of Booths for seven days. You shall rejoice in your festival… for the Lord your God will bless all your crops and all your undertakings, and you shall have nothing but joy.” (Deuteronomy 16:13-15)
Sukkot is indeed a happy holiday. In Hebrew it is called z’man simhateinu — the season of our joy. Also called the Harvest Festival, it is a time to celebrate the fall season and all that the summer harvest has brought us. Historically, it reminds us of the journey through the desert after the Exodus from Egypt. Sukkot is also a time for thanksgiving to God, the Source of the earth’s bounty. In ancient times, our people brought the first portion of their harvest to the Temple in Jerusalem. Today, we celebrate by thanking God for the harvest of food available to us. At the same time, we are mindful of those in need.
Simchat Torah at PBJC
There are several reasons Jews rejoice with the Torah. First, we are reminded that God did not send us out into the world without a road map, but rather provided us with a detailed and comprehensive guide to living a productive and praiseworthy life. When we physically embrace the Torah, we acknowledge its primacy in our lives and reject any implication that it is simply a museum piece, worthy of admiration but not of application. Even more, with this symbolic act we personally accept the obligation to live in accordance with its dictates. We do not struggle under its weight, but rather dance to show the world that — far from being a burden upon us — the Torah presents a source of joy and enrichment.
Second, we rejoice in the very fact that God trusted us enough to give us the Torah at all. We have all seen the look of unabashed pride and happiness in the face of a child who is entrusted with an important task. So too do we radiate feelings of pleasure at having been given so significant a mission. Third, we rejoice in having successfully completed another year of life — full of new experiences and new ideas — and having entered immediately into a new year, filled with hope and possibilities.
Joy is a very positive emotion in our lives. From the beginning of Elul through Yom Kippur, we have looked into our souls, repented of our wrongdoing, and pledged to set things right. Now it’s time to savor the moment and appreciate God’s bounty. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur mark a unique spiritual journey. Having survived that journey, we celebrate on Simhat Torah. We sing, we dance, we hold hands, we wave flags, we affirm life and — at the same time — we assure the continuity of our religious tradition.