My five year old son made a large felt cut-out of legendary baseball player Babe Ruth, along with a question for the Sultan of Swat. “How many home runs did you hit?” “It’s for our Sukkah,” he said, “I want to invite Babe Ruth!”
Since we don’t live in Brooklyn in the late 1920’s, one might think that inviting the famed Yankees slugger over for dinner might be difficult, but not during the holiday of Sukkot, a Jewish harvest festival celebrated by Jews around the world this week. Like our ancestors who spent their early fall days out in the field harvesting crops for the winter, we build small temporary shelters called sukkot in our yards or patios and enjoy spending time in them by inviting over guests.
Sukkot asks us to reconnect with nature by spending time outdoors, decorating with gourds and other natural elements. During holiday services, we shake the lulav, a combination of palm fronds, myrtle and willow branches, together with the etrog, a large fragrant yellow citrus fruit related to the lemon. We are commanded to raise these plants together in celebration, but Jewish authorities over the years have had different ideas of what these different plants symbolize.
Taken together right after the Yom Kippur holiday of atonement and forgiveness, they may help us imagine our ideal selves in the new Jewish year. A palm frond standing straight and tall reminds us to stand up for ourselves and our beliefs. The roundish leaves of the myrtle represent our eyes, looking to find the best in others, the oval shaped willow stands for our lips, speaking kindness and truth, and the etrog represents our hearts, big and kind, if a little lumpy and yellow.
We invite actual guests as well as Ushpizin, mythical guests from Jewish history, to visit us in our Sukkah. There are traditional figures like Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob, Rachel, Leah, Moses, Aaron, Esther, or King David. We imagine what they might have to say about our lives and our world today, what questions we might ask of them, and how they would rate my BBQ skills. We use our imaginations to bring these historic figures into our Sukkot and into our conversations today. Time and distance are not a concern when thinking about your guest list.
Think about who you might want to invite to your Sukkah, real, fictional, mystical, or otherwise. What historical figure would you want to have over for dinner and conversation? Who would enlighten you and your family with their stories? What new and fresh perspectives do you want to bring to the table on this holiday, and this year?
When we invite others to join us for meals, celebration, and fun, we broaden our world and our imagination. Our guests, both real and imagined, have the power to inspire us to look for the best qualities in ourselves and others. Student to Student programs across the country bring Jewish student guests into classrooms from California to New York to educate about their Jewish identity and practice during Sukkot and year round. They engage in conversation and questions with others who are curious to get to know Jewish people and learn together. If you’re interested in learning more about our program check out https://bethenarrative.org/student-to-student.
Baseball season may be wrapping up this fall, but we’ll be on a quest to reach Babe Ruth’s hitting records as we celebrate in our Sukkah this fall.
By Rabbi Andrew H. Terkel
CEO – Be The Narrative