This Shabbat is the 1st day of Sukkot. It is the last of the three pilgrim festivals, the Shlosh Regalim. At these times we were expected to present ourselves in Jerusalem. It is considered the most important of the Chagim and is sometimes just called “The Chag”
There is a fascinating comment in the Midrash which suggests that after Yom Kippur God is now saying “let bygones be bygones”.
This Shabbat we read the instructions for Sukkot in two Parashiot. From Vayikra (Leviticus) we have instructions for fire offerings, bringing the four species and to live in “booths”. In Bamidbar (Numbers) we are only instructed to offer fire offerings each specific to the eight days.
The four species, the fruit of the Hadar tree, date palm fronds, a branch of a braided tree, and willows of the brook, are now represented by the Lulav and Etrog.
As for the Sukkah, we follow the instruction, albeit adapted to where we live:
For a seven-day period you shall live in booths, generations should know that I had the children of Israel live in booths when I took them out of the land of Egypt.
Halakha is lenient here, saying that you shouldn’t stay all the time in the Sukkah “if it makes you uncomfortable.”; which is appropriate for the weather this week.
Sukkot, called “The Festival of Tabernacles” and “The Festival of the Ingathering “, is also known as Chag Simchatenu, ”The Festival of Joy”.
This has been a strange year as we all know. We were isolating at the first festival, Pesach, and also, at the time of the second, Shavuot. Now we are in the same boat. The Sukkah is our kosher “bubble”.
Although we will not be together to call out the Hoshanot in Shul and to wave our Lulavim in procession there is nothing to stop us from reciting:
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה, יְיָ אֱלֹהֵינוּ, מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, שֶׁהֶחֱיָנוּ וְקִיְּמָנוּ וְהִגִּיעָנוּ לַזְּמַן הַזֶּה
Blessed are You, our God, Sovereign of all, who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this season.
Remember; celebrate the joy and anticipate that things will, albeit slowly, get better.