For many years, students were introduced to the study of Talmud with Eilu Metziot, the second chapter of masechet Bava Metzia, focusing on the mitzvah of hashavat aveidah, returning lost objects. Beyond the technical details of this mitzvah, Talmud study is introduced with a message about helping others. The mitzvah of hashavat aveidah is a chidush, an original teaching, of the Torah. It requires us to spend time and effort to help someone who, quite likely through carelessness, lost an object.
For seven days a year, one is to “make his home temporary and his Sukkah permanent”. Ideally, we move our finest furniture, china, and even our bedroom set into the Sukkah, our “fall home”. While our modern-day living habits make much of this extremely impractical, the Sukkah is meant to be our home for the week.
As important (if not more so) as what one says is how it is said, when it is said, and what is not said. This is equally true regarding both our interactions with other people and our religious texts. Form is as important as substance. So much of Jewish law is derived by looking at form over substance, the 39 forbidden activities of Shabbat being just one of many examples.
Sukkot is a holiday full of contradictions. At the time we celebrate our harvest, we are bidden to leave the comfort of our home and expose ourselves to the elements of nature. Even the two reasons given for sitting in the sukkah are contradictory. According to Rabbi Akiva, the sukkah is meant to replicate the sukkot that the Jews actually resided in as they sojourned in the desert: flimsy huts representing the temporary nature of life on earth.
Holidays are a most opportune time to instill in our children the values and character traits that personify a Jewish lifestyle. At first glance Pesach, more than any other holiday, seems to embody the critical importance of teaching our children. The entire seder is focused on children of all types and stripes; the intense preparation for the holiday and the excitement of the seder make it a most memorable one for children. The Torah's description of Pesach centers on such imperatives as, "and when your children ask", &qu
When studying literature we must study not only its content, but also its form. This is especially true in the study of poetry, where the words themselves offer only a limited understanding of the text. Our Torah, in addition to being a description of the Divine, is a work of profound literature and poetry, and our understanding of it is greatly enhanced when we apply literary analysis to its study.
Judaism is not oblivious to the power and even importance of physical beauty. Phrases such as yefat tohar v’yefot ma’areh, loosely translated as very attractive, is one we find in the Torah to describe such heroines as Sarah, Rivka, Rachel and Esther. The Beit HaMikdash—and, by extension, our shuls—had to physically reflect the fact that it is the dwelling place of G-d. Beauty is to be obvious to all who enter.
Sukkot marks the beginning of the end of the holiday season. As the fall season commences, and as the days get progressively shorter and colder, festivities become more difficult. Travelling to Jerusalem for inspiration is no longer feasible and we must rely on the spiritual renewal gained during the previous six months of holidays.
"Keep the harvest festival as the year changes" (Shemot 34:22). This (half) verse is the only reference to Sukkoth (or more precisely Chag Ha'aseif, the harvest festival) in the Torah reading that our Sages have ordained for Shabbat Chol Hamoed. It seems like a rather weak reason for this reading.
The Jewish year begins with the aseret yemei teshuva, the ten days of repentance. They begin with the strict justice of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Hadin; and culminate on Yom Kippur, with its unique opportunity for forgiveness. The intensity of these days is reflected in our liturgy, our special customs, and in Jewish law, where certain stringencies are recommended only during these ten days. The unique nature of the “High Holy Days” is recognized even by those otherwise very far removed from Jewish observance.