Sukkot Symbolism and Connections

September 28, 2018

Sukkot has three main symbols: the sukkah, the harvest and the lulav and etrog.  Our students spend time over Sukkot learning about the symbols and their deeper meaning.  Each class visited the sukkah at the Narayever synagogue yesterday and here at the MNjcc during roof recess.  They collectively decorated the sukkah at Mount Sinai Hospital with images for harvest fruits and vegetables, and they fulfilled the mitzvah of waving the lulav and etrog.   

As I have delved deeper into the symbolism of Sukkot, the messages of both the sukkah and the lulav and etrog have resonated deeply with me and the work we are privileged to do at Paul Penna DJDS.  Visiting the sukkah is an opportunity to remove ourselves from the materialism of our daily lives. If you have ever spent a cold and maybe rainy night eating or sleeping in a sukkah, you know how quickly the experience reminds you of the blessings of our everyday lives.  It also provides the opportunity to develop empathy for people in our community who have less than us, perhaps bringing attention to the homeless crisis that Toronto is experiencing. We can also remember, at this time, those who have not been fortunate to experience the luxury and comfort of a permanent residence.  Today students in our older grades participated in Orange Shirt Day, a day to recognize the impact of residential schools on First Peoples in our nation.

The lulav and etrog can be interpreted in different ways.  Many explanations are connected to humanity’s relationship with God and the immersive experience of the Divine.  However, a different explanation I came across discussed the coming together of four different species representing the totality of the Jewish nation.  Despite the differences among the palm branch, willow, myrtle and etrog, all species must be present to create the whole and allow each one of us to fulfil the mitzvah of lulav and etrog.  Not only is this an important analogy for the Jewish people, but it is also a wonderful analogy for our school community. Each family comes to Paul Penna DJDS with a different Jewish experience and level of observance, and together we create a unique Jewish community.  Our students learn about different practices and learn to respect differences in observance. Their wholistic experience is one of strong Jewish community, one where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

As we come to the conclusion of Sukkot and this holiday cycle, I hope you have had some time to reflect on the bounty that we experience in our daily lives and the beauty that is our school community.  For me, being in the sukkah and waving the lulav and etrog reminds me how lucky I am to work in this outstanding school – made whole because of the contributions of each of you.