Rabbi's Message

Setel3Rabbi Setel


Dear Temple Emanu-El members and friends,

The second paragraph of the Sh’ma tells us that, if we live in partnership with God, we will have “rain for the land in its season (Deut. 11:13).” For our ancestors, the coming of the rainy season was the most critical time of the year because their success and survival depended upon it. The festival of Sukkot was originally focused on prayers for rain. During the time of the Second Temple, a special water offering was poured on the altar and the Talmud states that “One who has not celebrated the [Sukkot] water-drawing celebration has never experienced joy.” In our time, there remain special prayers for rain in the Sukkot liturgy and, more well known, the ritual of shaking the lulav and etrog in the circle of all directions, an ancient rainmaking practice.

Rain out of its season has been much in the news as hurricanes and flooding bring suffering and loss across the globe. Our ancestors understood how vulnerable human beings are to the elements, and the practice they developed of dwelling in the sukkah, a temporary and intentionally exposed shelter, seems all the more relevant today. Supper in the sukkah on a beautiful autumn night can seem like a taste of paradise while rain and wind make it an altogether different experience.

Our spiritual task at Sukkot is the ability to live in these contradictions without despair. Life is both the harvest and the coming winter; the sunshine and the rain; safety and exposure. We are taught to fully rejoice in the moment while accepting the transience of everything we know.

Jewish tradition teaches that the first thing we are supposed to do after breaking the Yom Kippur fast is to begin to build the sukkah. Emerging from the contemplative process of the High Holidays, in which we seek to align our lives with our values, Sukkot calls us to take concrete action in the larger world to do so. In her poem, “The Art of Blessing the Day,” Marge Piercy writes: “Bless whatever you can / with eyes and hands and tongue. If you / can’t bless it, get ready to make it new.”

May our Sukkot celebrations bring us both a sense of blessing and a determination to renew our lives and our world so that the rains may come in their season.

Rabbi Drorah Setel