Succoth - Connecting to our Ancestors

After Yom Kippur, Jews celebrate the holiday of Succoth, marking the festival of the autumnal harvest. During the holiday, Jews are instructed to live or dwell as much as possible in a make-shift booth (or sukkah) that is covered with a roof of foliage that provides shade from the sun during the day but permits one to see the light of the large stars at night. This “glamping” celebration of sorts reconnects us viscerally to the original nomadic spirituality of the monotheistic tradition. In fact, the word “Hebrew” means passing through -- coming from somewhere else. 

In Jerry’s forthcoming book, We Are Not Meant to Die, he tells the story of Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook, a renowned Kabbalist in Jerusalem who received a wealthy visitor from abroad. That Rabbi Kook’s abode was simple would be an overstatement. His digs consisted of an entrance foyer, small bathroom, small kitchen, small bedroom, and his receiving space, a smallish living room with a threadbare couch, wooden table and chairs, linoleum on the floor, an overhead light, and a couple of walls lined with books. Like Colette, Jerry’s teacher, money in any form was not permitted to be given, taken, or exchanged.

The wealthy man was ushered in, feeling awed to meet this Rabbi of such renown.  Once seated, and getting his bearings, the man looked around and after surveying the scene said to Rabbi Kook, “Where is your furniture?”  Rabbi Kook shot back, “Where’s yours?”  The man was momentarily shocked, then responded, after pulling himself together, “I have none, I’m just a tourist here.”  Rabbi Kook responded, “So am I.”

A more familiar example of the nomad in Western spirituality is to be found in the Tarot in the person of the Fool, depicted as a kind of hobo walking on the road, carrying a stick with all his possessions in a bag tied up over his shoulder. The archetype of the Fool shows us a way of living our time in the world. The Fool is independent, free of the constraints of the mass-conscious value system rooted in material possession, acquisition, ownership, and eventually greed.  As a liberated being he travels unencumbered, having to find and develop his own means to health, wholeness, and holiness as an ongoing, continuous practice.  Likewise the Succah is the reminder of the possibility to live without the burdens of all the attachments we value so much to ownership in this material plane.

A custom during Succoth is to welcome not only living guests but also our ancestral guests. Below is a beautiful imagery exercise written by Colette* that is done each night of the seven day holiday. 

  • Close your eyes and breathe out three times slowly.
  • Imagine waiting at the door of your sukkah-booth to greet a special guest who is arriving from the Beyond.
  • As you see this guest approach, you open the gate of the house and the door of the sukkah.
  • Invite the guest respectfully to sit down, and sit near him/her.
  • Ask him/her to give you three pieces of advice. Hear the answers.
  • We have the right to ask one more question. Your guest answers and then has to leave.
  • Accompany him/her to the door and look at him/her leave until s/he disappears at the horizon.
  • Breathe out and open your eyes.

**adapted from Empowered to Heal by Simcha H. Benyosef