Progressively Speaking: This Succot is different, but we can still help others

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Progressively Speaking: This Succot is different, but we can still help others

Rabbi Aaron Goldstein takes a topical issue and looks at a Progressive Jewish response

Tradition is a mixed bag for us British Jews. On the one hand, it is a mitzvah to live through Succot in our temporary booth; on the other, it is a joyous festival and to sit shivering or sodden in our succah contradicts its essence.

This year will be particularly challenging to engage in traditional celebrations of gathering. However, it does provide an opportunity to return to the essence of the festival.

The underlying message is to recall the times when we, as a people, were in need and were provided for. God bought the Israelites out of Egypt and protected them in booths.

God looked out for us. So, in turn, we should look out for others.

Every individual, regardless of bank balance, can hand over something of what they produce – and at Succot, we are talking about agricultural produce – to others.

All the symbols of Succot point us to think of others in need and there is a moral imperative to do what we can.

The Kabbalistic notion of ushpizin, inviting one of seven lauded men of Israel, rather hides the understanding known to Maimonides, that of inviting a poor person on each night to eat in the succah.

He noted the temptation towards self-aggrandisement of so doing. This year there are really no temptations.

I sincerely hope that we will enjoy our increased time at home. I also hope we will consider the focus on what we can do to support others whose risk of food poverty is acute.

While not emphasising the minutiae of the exact quality of fronds on a palm, the focus of Liberal Judaism congregations has been on the ethical message of Succot. How we can look out for others as God looked out for us?

My own Northwood and Pinner Liberal Synagogue has partnerships with our local food bank, as well as charities for preventing homelessness and supporting refugees. We work with them at all times, but especially at Succot.

There is a huge opportunity for us to be involved in such social action work and social justice.

That Marcus Rashford is having to continue to battle for free school meals for children in need throughout the pandemic is just one example of a campaign with which we might engage.

May your succah be a delight and your generosity a joy.

Aaron Goldstein is senior rabbi at Northwood & Pinner Liberal Synagogue

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