Nizahker Venikatev

Nizakher Venikatev: A Reflective Guide for Sukkot

Sukkot is a great time to notice the changes in the weather: the incoming rain, ripening plants, and the temperature shifts happening around us. If you are able, take a short walk outside on each day of the holiday. Pay attention: What is changing in the world around you? What is happening to the trees, to the air?

There is a practice of welcoming ushpizin, sacred guests, into our sukkah. While we traditionally invite the Patriarchs and other biblical figures into our booths, many choose to “welcome” other Jewish figures whom they find inspiring or wise. Who might you welcome into your space this Sukkot? What wisdom or other qualities do they represent?

When the Temple in Jerusalem still stood, Jews in ancient times would celebrate simhat beit hasho’eva (the celebration of water-drawing) during Sukkot. Water was poured over the Temple altar in a joyous all-night festival in anticipation of the winter rains and their sustaining power. What wellsprings of spiritual nourishment have sustained you during the holiday season? How can you celebrate them?

Sukkot is also known as hag ha’asif, the harvest festival. Reflect back on the previous year: What efforts or changes did you “plant” whose rewards are beginning to blossom? What new seeds could you sow in these early days of 5781?

Sukkot is a time when we appreciate the shelter of our homes and our bodies. It is easy to become frustrated with both of these shelters when so many of us have been spending much more time in our places of living and worrying about our bodily health and wellbeing. Take some quiet time to reflect on the parts of your home and the parts of your embodied experience for which you are grateful.

The arba minim of the lulav and etrog are subject to many creative interpretations. In Leviticus Rabbah (30:14)  a midrash states that the four species symbolize different kinds of Jewish people, and our shaking of the lulav and etrog together reflects a desire for unity. What are the different Jewish perspectives that have nourished you? How do you bring them together in your spirituality and practice?

Our dwelling in the sukkah is in part to remind us of our own vulnerability, spending time exposed to the natural world from within a sparse structure. With rapid climate change and increasing weather disasters, we have learned in recent years that nature itself is vulnerable. This Sukkot, what can you do to protect our environment?

Sukkot is often called z’man simhateinu, our time of joy. During this incredibly difficult year, what have been your sources of joy? How could you delve deeper into your joy in these early days of the new year?

For Families

Sukkot is a great holiday for exploring our sensory connection to ritual and Jewish life. As a family, identify the ways you can engage all five senses during the holiday: What special things can you see, hear, touch, smell, and taste on Sukkot?

Sukkot is a time for joy and celebration and one of our most embodied rituals. This year, try a Sukkot dance party! Whether or not you have a lulav and etrog at home, play some joyful music and shake it!