This Sunday we begin the Jewish festival known as Sukkot. Jews all over the world have built huts outside of their homes and will eat their meals in them for the next seven days. They will also gather together a citrus fruit, one palm branch and a few willow and myrtle branches and wave them in a number of directions. All of this is taken directly from the Torah (Leviticus Chapter 23).
However, there is another name for this holiday also taken from the Torah, one less talked about but maybe even more significant and that is: The Festival of the Ingathering (Exodus 23 and 34).
This is the time of the year when in ancient Israel the harvested produce was brought into the storehouses and the agricultural work for the year was complete. Interestingly this festival comes directly after the most serious and solemn day of the Jewish Calendar the Day of Atonement known in Hebrew as Yom Kippur--a day when we spend our time asking God to bless the next year with abundance.
Why do we jump directly from the most serious day of the year to, just a few days later, the most happy festival of the year? Shouldn't there be some type of middle ground before we enter such a joyous holiday?
Inherent in this seeming anomaly is great wisdom. On Sukkot we celebrate and reflect upon the blessing we received the previous year. On Yom Kippur, a few days earlier, we asked for blessings for the coming year. Sometimes when we are so focused on asking we lose site of the blessings that we currently have and forget to be thankful. Yet, gratitude is a major principle in Judaism and is just as important as petitionary prayer.
The order is also important. After spending the entire day of Yom Kippur in prayer for abundance in the year to come, we become much more grateful and therefore joyous on Sukkot for what we have already. When we order it this way we also become deeply aware of the source of our blessings and thankful to God for them.
This is also a theme we find in the major prayer Jews say three times a day, the Amidah. After having petitioned God for all our needs we say the Modim prayer which thanks God for all the blessings we already have. This underlies the importance Judaism attaches to the order of petition for our needs and then gratitude for what we already have.
On a health and wellness level this order offers has huge benefits. The moment we are put into the position of having to ask for something we have a mindset of deficit and need. This is what all advertisements try and do to us. Upon seeing an advertisement for new product which we don’t have we immediately feel lacking. The fact that we may already have a perfectly good car, home or cell phone yet does not dull the sense of lack and need we feel from the advert.
Yet consciously reflecting on what we do have immediately upon feeling the sense of lacking and need will transform the needy feeling into one of joy and gratitude. Motherless, both feelings are necessary because without a sense of deficit (Yom Kippur) we would never be motivated to work harder and improve ourselves and the world around us.
In this sense the gratitude of Sukkot is a natural continuation from Yom Kippur. So maybe we can now give this festival yet another name: The Festival of Gratitude. Spend time this coming week counting your blessings and remembering all the things in your life you have to be grateful for--its that time of year. Chag Sameach or Happy Festival!