At Sukkot, Israel in Our Hands

By Cantor Lorna Wallach

The last words that are said at the very end of the Yom Kippur service are “L’Shana Haba’a B’Yerushalayim.” Next year in Jerusalem.  Hopefully many of us will get there sometime this year, but if we look at some of the liturgy and symbols of the Festival of Sukkot, which begins this evening, we find several ways to feel connected to Israel without even being there!

On Shemini Azeret (usually translated “the Eighth Day of Solemn Assembly”) which comes at the end of the Sukkot festival, the liturgy includes a special prayer for rain called Tefillat Geshem.  It marks the beginning of the rainy season in Israel. By offering this prayer at the beginning of the rainy season in Israel, Jews everywhere affirm their eternal bond with the Holy Land.  Rabbi Irving Greenberg, in his book The Jewish Way: Living the Holidays, has called Shemini Azeret the “Zionist holiday” because it kept alive a strong identification between world Jewry and the land of Israel.  Reciting the prayer for rain when it is needed in Israel and not in their native lands, according to Greenberg, was the Jews’ way of maintaining an unbroken tie, a statement that as Jews, they were living on “Jerusalem Standard Time,” not Greenwich Meridian or Central Mountain Time.

The Talmud also reflects this theme when it reminds us that the four species used on Sukkot grow in four different environments in Israel.  The lulav grows in a desert oasis; hadas (myrtle) grows in the mountains and hills; aravah (willows) grow in the river valley and the etrog grows in the plains and requires irrigation.  Therefore, no matter where you are, when you take the four species together in your hands to wave them, you symbolically hold the entire land of Israel in your hands.

I wish you a joyous and meaningful celebration of Sukkot as we keep the land and people of Israel close to our hearts. Chag Samayach!