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October 1, 2006

Stepping Outside of Our Comfort Zones
By Hayley Mica Siegel

Almost as much as the Jew looks forward to Shabbat after a busy week, it is certain that the entire Jewish community lets out a collective sigh of relief during the celebration of Sukkot. After ten days of praying, fasting, repenting, and reflecting, we shift our gears into celebration mode. Immediately following the intense periods of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we are instructed to prepare for Sukkot, a joyous ‘hag‘ (holiday). Required to abstain from labor during the first and last days of the festival, we learn about the specifics of the celebration in Vayikra. (Leviticus 23:40-42) In the Torah, we read that Hashem commands the Israelites to, ‘take for yourselves on the first day the fruit of a citron tree, the branches of a date palm, twigs of a plated tree, and brook willows’you shall dwell in booths for a seven day period.’ Throughout the world, Jews dive headfirst into the Sukkot celebration and embrace the opportunity to construct and live in both elaborate and simple sukkot in their backyards, synagogues, and other communal spaces. They shake the traditional species of the lulav and etrog, with their families and friends and eat as many festive meals inside of the sukkah, with high hopes of good weather and hardy construction.

However, while Sukkot is often perceived as the ‘break’ from the spiritual and mental reflection of the previous High Holidays, the tasks that we complete on Sukkot afford us the opportunity to continue expanding our spiritual and physical boundaries in a covert way. In the sukkah, we live and remain outside of our homes, often the foundation of our strength, stability, and rejuvenation. While life often throws us curveballs, sometimes many in a day, the home remains a bastion of permanence, a place where familiarity reigns and is happily embraced by all those who dwell within in it. The Jewish home, where both everyday occurrences and lifecycle events intersect and crisscross so seamlessly, represents an important part of who we are and, often, what we will become.

Just as the blast of the shofar awakens us from the slumbers of the past year and implores us to begin teshuvah, tefillah, and tzedakah (Repentance, Prayer and Righteousness) during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Sukkot reminds us that we must step outside of our comfort zones to act upon the vows and changes we promised to Hashem, ourselves, our families, and the world during the High Holidays. During Sukkot, we are truly challenged to push our physical and spiritual boundaries farther than we could have ever imagined. As we construct the sukkah from scratch without the luxuries or comforts which we are ordinarily blessed with, we are most certainly in a vulnerable position. However, if we are to grow and change for the better from the previous year, we must bravely move forward to conquer fears of failing to come through on our sacred vows and change unhealthy habits which caused others pain in the previous year.

As we all put our hearts, minds and souls into the creation of the sukkah and the holiday of Sukkot, let us remember that all of us have the tools and resources to make concrete and lasting changes in our life. We only need put in the time and a heartfelt effort, not to mention a little spiritual elbow grease, to accomplish these
tasks. Joined with our friends and families during this holy time and surrounded by the Shekhinah (Presence of Hashem), we must realize that we are never alone as we make these crucial changes. We need the help and support of loved ones to take the next step forward in our lives, and the communal construction of the sukkah allows us to share this sacred moment with those who
support, sustain, and enrich our lives for the better.

Although the holiday of Sukkot is a short period in the Jewish calendar, let us take the lessons learned from this holiday and apply them for a lifetime. As we look forward to another year, let us utilize the energy and inspiration gained from the construction of the sukkah to gain momentum into a year that is blessed with many chances to commit mitzvot (commandments) , continued personal and spiritual growth, and of course, more celebrations with family and loved ones.