You shall dwell in booths for seven days…. So that your [future] generations will know that I caused the people of Israel to dwell in booths, when I brought them out of the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God – Vayikra 23:42-43
When you hear the term “the official [car, airline, soft drink] of [the New York Yankees, FIFA World Cup, Vail Resorts],” do you ever wonder what that means?
Does it mean a team is so enamored with a particular camera manufacturer, for example, that it only uses its products to take official pictures? Does it suggest a federation is so pleased with one airline’s service that it does all its business through that carrier? That was what I first thought when I heard the term many years ago.
Over time, I came to view such monikers as endorsements purchased like any other advertisement; the “official” designation is meant to add status and distinguish the product from the pack (at the price of a small fortune, no doubt).
An “official” sponsorship is simply a business partnership between an organization and a product, in which the manufacturer hopes its formal association with the adored entity will elevate its status in the eyes of consumers and lead to more sales.
Of course, such labeling is misleading, at least for consumers with the naiveté I had as an eight year old. The term, if it is to be used at all (is does sound kind of ridiculous, doesn’t it?), should express a deep connection and a special bond that goes beyond financial considerations.
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Of all the Jewish holidays, I would say Sukkos is far and away the least appreciated.
We value the Yamim Noraim for the veneration and awe they inspire, for the opportunity to reconnect with our King and repent for past indiscretions.
We easily relate to the common themes of Chanukah and Purim: appreciation for divine deliverance from the throes of annihilation, whether physical or spiritual.
Pesach’s popularity stems from a similar redemption, not to mention the dramatic saga of an arrogant and tyrannical Egyptian nation receiving its collective comeuppance from the God of a beleaguered slave nation.
On Shavuos, we conjure up the awesome image of Matan Torah, which culminated with the receipt of an invaluable gift that we continue to cherish some 3,300 years later.
In contrast, Sukkos is the result of none of these singular, supernatural miracles or periods of open salvation, nor does it specifically focus us on strengthening our relationship with our Maker.
Simply, it serves to remind us of a wonderful period in Jewish history when our people enjoyed Hashem’s continued protection and sustenance. To commemorate that experience, we are commanded to build booths, or sukkahs, of our own, and make it our primary abode for an entire week.
A deeper look, however, reveals a different picture. There was far more to this desert experience than the simple issue of transitory housing and daily provisions. Most notable was the Jewish people’s subsistence for forty years with no natural sources of food or water. For more than fourteen thousand consecutive days, man (manna) descended on the transitory Jewish camp, supplying our people with their daily rations. During that same period the Hebrew nation was also able to rely on the continued availability of fresh water from the well of Miriam, which provided for all its drinking needs.
Other basic life necessities, such as clothing and shelter, were also attended to without any effort from the people. For the entire period, the Jews had no need for new apparel as their clothing did not wear out. It also expanded as people grew. Nor did their shoes require replacement. Shelter was provided by each family’s personal sukkah, together with the external protection offered by the ananei hakavod (clouds of glory), which surrounded the entire Jewish camp.