Sukkot is a biblical Jewish festival celebrated for seven days on the 15th day of the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar. Sukkot marks the harvest festival and is an intended reminiscence of the Israelites 40 years of travel in the Sinai desert after the Exodus from slavery in Egypt. Throughout the festival, the festive makers eat inside the Sukkah (a hut or shed or booth) constructed for this very purpose.
The morning skimmed in the beautiful golden sun lingering partially on the horizon. An orange, peachy pink sky painted with a few lines of clouds ushered in the Sukkot festival. The week-long celebrations were beginning today. The Rabbi (spiritual leader of the Jews) was prepared; all washed and dressed for the blessings that would begin the festivities this evening. A firm believer, he was the very meaning of what his name stood for, God will establish. He was passionate and responsible. He believed in his work and took pride in his efforts towards the congregation.
Ima (mother) and aba (father) had always urged him to live life on his terms. He had held belief as a burden; the truth lied in being detached. Having travelled all over Europe and Asia as an adult, he realised his true calling; his driven desire towards his faith. Humanity was redeemable even through unflinching faith; one which was not blind, maimed or deaf. The sole tug to leading a life dedicated to serving God's will and the Torah's ideal. He took on the responsibilities of the congregation shortly after his father's death. His isha (wife), Leah, stood by him with pride. She had borne their twins, Meir and Maharam. Rabbi Elyakim had grown up with parents of faith but open-minded enough to allow him his freedom. His bens (sons) burned with the same inquisitiveness. They questioned and prodded. Elyakim kept their thirsts quenched and freed them of the shackles that a religious orthodox life ensued. He gave them wings to soar and seek their truths.
Bidding his family to the services at the allotted time, he reached the synagogue with his eyes filled with mirth. It was the first day marking the 'Festival of Ingathering'. The Rabbi knew his duties. He had prayers to offer after ablution. The prayers involving waving of the lulav (date palm frond), hadassim (myrtle branches), aravot (willow twigs) and etrog (a citron fruit): the Four Species. All part of the Yom Tov spirit.
The services were due at sunset. The purple hue of the sky marked the onset of the festival. The congregants: the rich, the poor, the young and the old, were excitedly pouring in with their families in tow, for the special prayers. Rabbi Elyakim would read out the Torah, followed by people waving together their kosher sets, reciting their own prayers. Today prayers bonded praise and jubilation. The embarkment of a year of good luck and gratitude. He stood at the podium and began with his Rabbinic duties; they sang praises for the Lord. Rabbi Elyakim faced the congregation to address them with a brief speech.
"We celebrate Sukkot as a commemoration of God's miraculous ways. He kept us alive when we left Egypt in search of the promised land. Sukkot is a reminder of the virtue that sharing is caring. It aims to strengthen bonds through morality and sanctity. The Torah pushes against the creation of the most ideal holy society. But I want to ask you, what is the ideal?
The ideal changes based on perspective.
Jews all over the world have celebrated this harvest festival. We have celebrated Sukkot in the desert's scorching sands and in the correction camps of the much atrocious tyrant. We have faced the Lord with gratitude, even when we had very little to be thankful about.
My saba (grandfather) had often told me and my akhot (sister) stories about the dreaded Holocaust. He told us that the Jews present in the Warsaw ghetto, and this I mean way back in 1941, had built a Sukkah (hut) on the top-floor balcony. They had queued for hours awaiting their turns on the Sukkah and to offer prayers over a set of the traditional four species, smuggled in from Switzerland.
People in the face of adversity had maintained their faith. If we can keep a small per cent of this dedication, our ideal would be complete. The Holocaust still lives. The violence is now widespread. The natural process would have been to exterminate such extreme episodes of inhumanity. Yet, the saddening fact is violence still exists. It is further pronounced and limitless. Humanity is at the brink of a breakdown. Hatred and jealousy; sins dominant over virtues of love and peace. "
He saw his family in the small gathering. They stood tall and proud. The synagogue thronged with festive makers felt silent.
Rabbi Elyakim smiled, "Hence, at the face of this magnificent festivities, I urge you to seek him not only for his benevolence but also to redirect us on the path to being humane; salvation will follow there forth. I pray for our sons. May they practise and preach compassion for thy neighbours. May the spirit of Sukkot linger on. May this bountiful festival bring us closer to humanity and binds every family in love and togetherness. "
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