Category Archives: sukkot

Sukkot Updates

Dear all,

Chag sameach – wishing you joy in this festival of Sukkot!


Our community Hebrew school enjoys our synagogue sukkah. You can too!

As a reminder: our synagogue sukkah is open to you. Come and use it anytime this week.

Please RSVP to the office for Friday night’s Shabbat / Sukkot potluck (5:30pm) so we know how many tables and chairs to set out.

Next Monday morning at 10am we’ll hold Shemini Atzeret services with Yizkor. You can read more about that here.

And next Monday afternoon at 4:15 all are welcome to join our Community Hebrew School for our celebration of Simchat Torah. We’ll say a few prayers, read a bit from Torah, sing songs, parade the Torah around the building (weather permitting) or at least around the sanctuary, and celebrate the wonderful teachings that are our inheritance! The service will be geared toward our Hebrew school kids but all ages are welcome.

Blessings to all,

Rabbi Rachel


Shavua tov and chag sameach – happy Sukkot!

Shavua tov – a  good week to you — and chag sameach (a  joyous festival): it’s Sukkot! This coming Shabbat services will be led by Rabbi Rachel, and we’ll read the Torah reading for Shabbat when it falls during the intermediate days of Sukkot.return-to-shabbat

If you’d like to read some commentaries on this week’s Torah portion and on this festival, some links follow:

All are also welcome to join us at 5:30pm on Friday evening for our annual Shabbat / Sukkot potluck in the sukkah (if it rains, we’ll dine indoors) which will be followed by an optional sleepover in the sukkah — please RSVP for both so we know how many people to expect.

Chag sameach – happy Sukkot!

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

Tonight at sundown we enter into the festival of Sukkot. After the hectic pace of the Days of Awe, Sukkot is a welcome opportunity to relax. The primary mitzvah of Sukkot is to dwell (or at least dine) in a sukkah for a week and to rejoice there.

Sukkot is a harvest festival. In antiquity this was one of the three great pilgrimage festivals when our ancestors would have taken the fruits of their harvest to the Temple in Jerusalem to offer them to God. Today we harvest memories, emotions, and experiences. What memories from the High Holidays do you want to bring with you into the sukkah this year?

Sukkot is an opportunity to remember the Exodus from Egypt, as the sukkah is meant to remind us of the temporary shelters in which our ancestors dwelled during the forty years of wandering.

Sukkot is also an opportunity to reflect on what’s temporary and what really lasts. We move for a week into these flimsy little houses (which must have roofs made of organic material through which one can see the full moon and the stars) in part to remind ourselves that even a beautiful and stable dwelling is ultimately as temporary as a sukkah… but if we cultivate faith and trust, we can know ourselves to be sheltered beneath the Divine Presence, even if our structures / our lives / our bodies don’t last forever.

And here in northern Berkshire, Sukkot is a glorious opportunity to enjoy the great outdoors during these beautiful days of fall.

Thanks to a group of wonderful volunteers, CBI’s beautiful sukkah is once again standing behind the synagogue. “Our sukkah is your sukkah” — please come and take advantage of the CBI sukkah anytime during the coming week, day or night! Bring lunch to the CBI sukkah and dine there beneath the rustling cornstalks; bring dinner; bring your book group to meet there; bring a bottle of wine and enjoy the moonlight; even bring a sleeping bag and camp out if you’re so inclined! The sukkah is here for you.

And, of course, I hope you’ll join us on Friday night for our Shabbat / Sukkot potluck. Please do RSVP to our hosts Heather Levy and/or Jen Burt so that we know how many people are coming and what people plan to bring.

(We’re also seeking a CBI host for Sukkah Cycle Sunday; participants will be bicycling between four sukkot in northern Berkshire county, and the final sukkah on the ride is supposed to be CBI’s. If you are able to be in our sukkah on Sunday and to welcome the cyclists, let us know; we can provide refreshments.)

Chag sameach / a joyous festival to you!

Rabbi Rachel

Sukkot invitations

SukkotPotluckDear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

A scant four days after Yom Kippur comes the fabulous week-long festival of Sukkot! All are welcome to join us at 2pm on Sunday, October 5, as we build the CBI sukkah together.

Sukkot begins on Wednesday, October 8. On Friday, October 10, we’ll hold a 5:30pm potluck dinner and Shabbat celebration in the sukkah; please RSVP to Jen Burt (peargirl007 at gmail dot com) or to Heather Levy (heathermai at gmail dot com) to let us know what you’re bringing.

The next night, all are invited to a Sukkot potluck in the home of new member Jen Burt, who writes:

We are planning to host a potluck  in our Sukkah for Havdalah on Sat the 11th at 6pm. Anyone in the CBI community is welcome to join us.

Our address is [redacted] in Hoosick Falls NY. The half hour drive is quite scenic. Please call [redacted] or email with any questions. Hope to see you there.

(Address and phone number are redacted for posting on the From the Rabbi blog; if you didn’t receive this information by email, feel free to call the office at 413-663-5830 and we’ll send it to you again.)
And on Sunday October 12th we’ll once again participate in “Sukkah Cycle Sunday,” a traveling sukkah party. Cyclists are invited to bike (and those who are more comfortable in cars are welcome to caravan in motorized vehicles) from the Williams College sukkah, to Bob Scherr’s sukkah, to Erin Casey and Jonah Marshall’s sukkah, to the CBI sukkah. Refreshments will be available in each sukkah, as well as the opportunity to shake the lulav, socialize with friends, and maybe even learn a little Torah! For addresses, pick up a flyer at the table in the CBI foyer when you’re here for Yom Kippur.
More Sukkot information will be forthcoming. For now — may these awesome y’mei teshuvah (“Days of Repentance / Return”) be meaningful and sweet for all of us.

Blessings to all,
Rabbi Rachel

Cloud of glory: a d’var Torah for chol ha-moed Sukkot

Here’s the d’var Torah I offered yesterday morning at CBI. (Crossposted to Velveteen Rabbi.)

This Shabbat falls during chol ha-moed, the intermediate days in the midst of the festival of Sukkot. The appointed reading for today (Exodus 33:12–34:26) does make brief mention of Sukkot. Almost at the very end of the parsha we read “And you shall observe the feast of weeks, of the first-fruits of wheat harvest, and the feast of ingathering at the turn of the year.” The feast of weeks is Shavuot; the feast of ingathering is Sukkot.

But mostly this parsha is about something different: a request from Moshe, and God’s intriguing answer.

“If I have found grace in Your sight, show me Your ways,” asks Moshe. And then Moshe adds, “Show me, please, Your glory.”

In response, God says: “I will make My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim My name before you, and I will manifest graciousness and mercy — but no one can look upon Me and live.”

As some of our b’nei mitzvah students would be quick to remind me, God doesn’t “look like” anything — God doesn’t have a body — so what would it even mean to look upon God?

It seems to me that the Torah here is speaking, as it so often does, in metaphor. First, Moshe asks “show me Your ways,” and God is happy to comply; in a sense, the entire Torah is God showing us God’s ways. But then Moshe asks to see God’s kavod, God’s glory. And God says, that’s not possible. Here is one reason why that might be.

Much later in our history, the kabbalists would speak of God as ein-sof, “Without End.” God is infinite, limitless, vaster than our human minds can comprehend. Any human mind which actually expands far enough to encompass all that God is would…crack open, I think. Would be stretched beyond its limits. God is precisely that infinity which we can’t comprehend.

Instead, God gives Moshe a different option: stand in a cleft of rock, and after I pass by, you can see My afterimage. I believe that we can see God’s afterimage all over creation: in our relationships, in our ethical obligations to one another, in moments of transcendence and power in our lives. Each of these is a tiny cellular glimpse of a facet of all of what God is, as in a hologram where each part contains the whole. Continue reading

On experiencing Sukkot with joy

9838051105_07f90ed515Dear Congregation Beth Israel community,

I’d like to share with you a teaching about Sukkot. (Those who came to morning meditation today have already heard this; forgive me for the repetition.)

Our sages have asked: what is a sukkah? Some said: it’s a remembrance of the tents we lived in during the exodus from Egypt. Others said: it’s a reminder of the cloud of glory which traveled with us during the exodus from Egypt. Still others said: it’s a harvest house, a reminder of the temporary dwellings our agricultural ancestors used to build in their fields during harvest time. And still others said: it is temporary, beautiful, vulnerable, a place for welcoming guests and connecting with people (both those who are in our lives, and those ancestors whom we remember with love) — it is an embodied metaphor for human life. Like a sukkah, each life is temporary; each life is beautiful; each life is vulnerable; each life is enriched by the presence of our loved ones, both living and imagined. Into every life a little rain must fall, but we have the opportunity to greet even that rain with joy.

Here’s another teaching, from Rabbi Alan Lew, in the final chapter of his book This Is Real And You Are Completely Unprepared: The Days of Awe as a Journey of Transformation (the last chapter is a chapter on Sukkot.) Rabbi Lew writes:

“You shall dwell in booths for seven days,” the Torah enjoins us, “so that you will know with every fiber of your being that your ancestors dwelt in booths during their sojourn in the wilderness when they were leaving Egypt.” This is a commandment we fulfill not with a gesture or word, but with our entire body. We sit in the sukkah with our entire body. Only our entire body is capable of knowing what it felt like to leave the burden of Egyptian oppression behind, to let go of it. Egypt in Hebrew is Mitzrayim. The rot of this word is tzar, a narrowness. Egypt was the narrow place. Only the entire body can know what it felt like to be pushed from a place of dire construction into a wilderness, a spacious, open world. Only the body can know what it felt like to be born. Only the body can know the fullness of joy, and this is a commandment that can only be fulfilled with joy. All the holidays and all their rituals are to be observed with joy, but there is a special joy, an extra measure of joy, connected with Sukkot…

In the sukkah, a house that is open to the world…the illusion of protection falls away, and suddenly we are flush with our life, feeling our life, following our life, doing its dance, one step after another. And when we speak of joy here, we are not speaking of fun. Joy is a deep release of the soul… Joy is any feeling fully felt, any experience we give our whole being to. Any moment in our life fully inhabited, any feeling fully felt, any immersion in the full depth of life, can be the source of deep joy.

The commandment to rejoice in the sukkah isn’t telling us to “put on a happy face” — it’s an invitation to get out of our houses and be outside in this beautiful place where we live, to recognize that all of the structures we build around ourselves are ultimately temporary, and to find a profound joy in that.  The seasons change: we can take joy in that. Our lives change: we can take joy in that. It’s harvest season: we can take joy in that. We’ve made it through the Days of Awe: we can take joy in that!

Join us tonight for a vegetarian/dairy potluck in the sukkah at 5:30, and tomorrow morning for a Shabbat service which will feature music, teaching, some extra explanations, the psalms of Hallel, and a Torah study on Kohelet (a.k.a. Ecclesiastes, the scroll assigned to this festival.) Weather permitting, we’ll make our kiddush and study Torah in the sukkah.

Wishing everyone moadim l’simcha, a joyous immersion in this festival of Sukkot, and Shabbat shalom, a sweet and joyous Shabbat!

Rabbi Rachel

(Photo source: flickr.)

Come Use Our Sukkah!

8041163674_b7c20913b6_nThe festival of Sukkot begins on Wednesday evening at sundown, and lasts for a week. Thanks to those who came out on Sunday to build it once again, there is a beautiful sukkah at CBI.

All CBI members and friends are invited to come and enjoy our sukkah during the week. Do you know the Spanish phrase mi casa es su casa, “My house is your house”? This week we might say: Mi sukkah es su sukkah — “My sukkah is your sukkah!”

Bring lunch and come here on your lunch break — bring dinner — come with a thermos of hot tea or a bottle of wine in the evening and gaze at the moon — or just come and relax in the sukkah anytime you’re free. The primary mitzvah of Sukkot is to rejoice in the sukkah. Come and rejoice in ours! It is here for you, all through the holiday.

Weather permitting, our Friday meditation group will convene in the sukkah this week instead of the sanctuary — and on Friday evening at 5:30, join us for a potluck vegetarian/dairy feast celebrating Shabbat and Sukkot, in the sukkah. And on Sunday, we’ll be part of a multi-sukkah traveling party: Sukkah Cycle Sunday. (If you’re not a cyclist, you can travel between sukkot in your car, never fear.)

In short: come and use our sukkah! It is here for you.


Rabbi Rachel

(Photo: our son in the CBI sukkah last year.)