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    Symbolism of the sukkah

    October 6th, 2022

    Sukkah meal, by Bernard Picart, 1722

    * A sukkah must not be too high. A person must not be too high and mighty.

    * A sukkah must not be too small. A person must not belittle himself.

    * The walls must be able to withstand ordinary gusts of wind. A person must stand up for his principles.

    * The stars must be visible through the foliage on the roof. A person must always see and strive for the Divine light.


    Adventures of the etrog – Sukkot

    October 6th, 2022

    * One of the Four Species used on Sukkot is the etrog. It is the odd man out, the only plant which is not bound together with the others.

    * The etrog is called in the Torah “the fruit of a goodly (beautiful) tree” (Lev. 23:40). Each of the four plants symbolises a part of the human body. The etrog is the heart, which makes the body function. It also represents the Jewish people, a small separate group who exemplify ethics. The four plants symbolise four Biblical figures: the etrog is Abraham.

    * The name etrog is from a Persian root tarag and the original name might be torange. The etrog was known for its aroma and medicinal properties.

    * In size the etrog must not be smaller than an egg, even though today’s eggs are regarded as smaller than those of talmudic times.

    * Etrogim used to be rare and expensive. The question arose, “If one has to choose between visiting a town that has a sukkah and one that has an etrog, which should be chosen?” The answer is, “The one with the etrog!”

    * Can one use an etrog owned by the synagogue? The members of the shule are partners who jointly own the appurtenances of the synagogue.


    In your own garden – Sukkot

    October 6th, 2022

    Each festival has its theme. Sometimes it is the individual and his soul. Sometimes it is the family and its future, sometimes the nation and its quality, sometimes the people and its ethos. With Sukkot it is Nature and God’s bounty.

    Maybe if you live in a rural environment you already have Nature as your neighbour, but if you are a city-dweller there is a special dimension to be found when you build your annual sukkah, however small it might have to be if its nook is hemmed in and its corner is precious.

    So many of our streets are concrete jungles, so many houses are brick building-blocks, so many apartments are anonymous pigeon-holes.

    Living in Jerusalem I constantly wonder why the ubiquitous building projects seldom have sukkah balconies. In our case there is a sukkah balcony which is one of the jewels of our home. Having a sukkah makes sure that at least once in a while you encounter a bit of fresh air and greenery. Even if it’s only for eight days you can get a tiny taste of Nature.

    In the cramped conditions of urban living we don’t all have the chance of building our own sukkah, so we try to make do by being invited to someone else’s or spending time in the synagogue sukkah. Some of us can do both.

    I well recall, even after many decades, the fragrance of a certain synagogue sukkah which I patronised as a child; I still vividly remember the greenery around the walls and I inhale the air and can taste the Kiddush-time sponge cake. That synagogue had its sukkah in an open area outside the shule and nothing could rival it.

    Up until recent times city dwelling was rather rare. The Torah makes a special point of Cain building a city (Gen. 4:17). That “city”, however, was probably only an encampment of two or three houses. In the Biblical era the only city with urban status was probably Jerusalem, though in modern terms Jerusalem was not much more than a village. The Mishnah Megillah speaks of villages, towns and cities, but none of them had any pretensions to city-status in modern terms.

    Until quite recently most people lived in relatively small settlements and indeed up to 200 years ago no more than one person in fifty lived in what we today would call a city. So it’s only recently that the sukkah was desperately needed as a fleeting contact with Nature. How they managed to build sukkot in Eastern Europe I have no idea.

    Move on to today and you see how hard it is to find a nook that is open to the sky and how important it is to have a festival which gives us a feeling for branches, greenery and the fresh air. Thanks to the sukkah, the Jewish people always had a feeling for Nature and gave thanks to the Creator. And thanks to the Arba’ah Minim used on Sukkot we Jews saw, held and celebrated samples of God’s Creation.


    Kol Nidrei – moved by the music

    September 27th, 2022

    The words of Kol Nidrei are rather technical, even banal. It’s the melody that counts. A melody that tells a story. The story is that of our endless pain in the pogroms, our hurting soul in countless calamities wherever suffering was imposed by apostles of evil.

    But these are not the main thoughts of the Kol Nidrei moment. The main thoughts are of our yearning to be free of the shackles of sin. Kol Nidrei draws us along as we sigh, as we weep, as we wail and whimper.

    Every cantor works on his Kol Nidrei because he knows that it must speak to and of the Jewish heart – including his own.

    Kol Nidrei is based on the Biblical command that a person must honour his word. Better not to promise than to promise and not fulfil.

    Kol Nidrei knows that human beings are not perfect. Yet it is fundamentally optimistic about man’s ability to transform himself.

    Milton Steinberg wrote that though our tradition finds man “capable of abysmal evil, it insists that he is equally capable of dazzling good. It holds that he is born not pre-damned but with a clean slate; that he has the power to keep himself righteous, or, having sinned, to recapture his righteousness; that his salvation is up to him.”


    I don’t go to shule

    September 27th, 2022

    Dear Rabbi: My wife and I get on well (we’ve been married for 25 years) but have never been able to agree about going to shule on Yom Kippur. She will never stay away unless there is an emergency. I don’t go to shule because it does nothing for me. What advice, if any, can you give me? I like you very much and would value your counsel. Best wishes… Steven.

    Dear Steven: Even though you don’t think shule services can do anything for you, I think your wife has discovered something valuable and you should share it with her.

    Not just because the shule needs support, not just because you might enjoy the musical side of the service, not just because you might find something worthwhile in my sermons, not just because it would make your wife happy… but because you are likely to derive some benefit from going.

    Golda Meir said in Moscow soon after the establishment of Israel, “I am not so religious, but on Yom Kippur when the Jews go to Synagogue my place is with the Jews”. Anyone can meditate at the water’s edge or under a tree but there are times to be “with the Jews”.

    Nobody has to daven when they go to shule: anyone can take a book and read and think. Nobody has to be a believer when they are in shule. Belief cannot be foisted upon anyone. Everyone has times or lifetimes of doubt: some work their way through but not all. Maybe you can give God the benefit of the doubt. Maybe you can find God: maybe you will let Him find you.

    Best wishes… Rabbi.