Succot arrives surprisingly quickly each year, poignantly reminding us that the seasons are changing. Our celebration in the Sukkah may even be interrupted, as the rain or cold tells us that winter is coming.
The Torah commands us to bring together four species of plant on Succot: “Fruit of goodly trees, branches of palm trees, and boughs of thick trees, and willows of the brook”. We recognise these as the lulav and etrog.
In the Book of Nehemiah, we are told of Ezra the Scribe reading this passage to the people and then telling them to gather the four species order to build a succah. It seems like, at their time, this biblical instruction was pragmatic – instructing us about what to build a succah from.
Why do we now combine these elements into a symbol we parade around our communities?
Darkness and winter are times associated with fear and a need for strength in our religious tradition.
This is a time where we would have needed each other more than ever. In bringing the four species together and waving them around our synagogues, we unite symbols of all shapes and sizes, tastes, textures and smells: our ritual is not complete without this diversity.
We make a show of bringing these disparate items together at a moment when we realise our own vulnerability in the succah. We are declaring the importance of fortifying ourselves for the winter months ahead. The message is clear – now is the time to consciously bring together our entire community as one, at a time when we need each other the most.
Only with all of our qualities combined are we complete and ready to move forwards with the strength we need to overcome any challenge.
- Laura Janner-Klausner is Reform Judaism’s senior rabbi