By the time you read this, most of the colorful leaves of the trees that grace our hills will be down dramatically marking the end of the “growing season” in our region. Gardens and fields have been plowed under, having yielded the last of its produce. No more vine ripe tomatoes. The potatoes have been dug and stored. All of the summer vegetables are either consumed, canned, or frozen. Same with fruit. From earliest times, humanity has marked the passing of the growing season with forms of celebration. One need not turn further than the pages of Exodus in the Hebrew Scriptures (our “Old” Testament) to discover the feasts of weeks and ingathering (Exodus 34:22ff), commemorating the end of the harvest season and the end of the year.
When one turns to the Book of Leviticus (23:42-44), you will note that the harvest festival has taken on additional meaning emphasizing how God provided for the Hebrew people while enduring the Exodus from the land of Egypt to the Promised Land. This is known today as the Feast of Tabernacles or the Feast of Booths. It is commanded that the Hebrew people build makeshift booths (shelters) to remember the time their ancestors endured with God’s help in the Wilderness and their (our?) continuing dependence upon the will of God. The Hebrew word for these shelters or booths is sukkah (soo – KAH). A sukkah was built to be intentionally fragile helping the people to remember the fragility of life and their total dependence upon God. All of this is to demonstrate gratitude toward God.
This year, our Jewish sisters and brothers observed the Feast of Booths or Sukkot (soo – KOAT) from sunset, October 9th through nightfall of October 16th. Each day of the holiday there is a mitzvah, or commandment, to sit in a booth and perform a waving ceremony with three types of branches, and one type of fruit. There is a special symbolism expressed with each chosen branch and fruit upon which I will not elaborate.
What really catches my attention here, is the word mitzvah. “The literal meaning of the word mitzvah is commandment, but the generally accepted sense is that of a good deed. The emphasis is on deeds – not on positive thoughts or wishes, but on conscious acts of empathy and kindness.”
As I prepare to celebrate our very American holiday of Thanksgiving this year, it is my desire to practice a mitzvah, to do a good deed for a friend, a neighbor, a family member, and yes, a stranger each day the week of Thanksgiving (November 20 through November 26), remembering how fragile life is and how utterly dependent we are upon our God and Savior.
How about you?