Statement on Occupy Sukkot
Mark this: on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you all have gathered in the yield of your land, you shall observe the festival of YHVH [to last] seven days… On the first day you shall take the product of goodly trees, branches of palm trees, boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before YHVH your God seven days… You shall live in booths seven days; all citizens in Israel shall live in booths, in order that future generations may know that I made the Israelite people live in booths when I brought them out of Egypt.
—Leviticus 23: 39-48
Every autumn, in the end of the agricultural calendar, Jews celebrate the harvest festival of Sukkot. We leave our homes and enter the sukkah (plural- sukkot), a hut, temporary dwelling made of simple materials, covered sparsely with branches.
At the time when our agrarian ancestors had completed gathering the bounty of the year’s crops into their homes they would celebrate by leaving their homes, by building sukkot under the sky. We live in the sukkah as we would live in our homes: eating, drinking, studying, celebrating, even sleeping. For the roofs of the sukkah the Israelite farmers would return to the fields they had harvested and pick up the discarded sheaves and branches.
On Sukkot we celebrate the blessings of abundance in our lives by reminding ourselves of our vulnerability and of the fleeting nature of material wealth. On this festival we imagine a society living out the values of true justice and compassion for all.
The Sukkah is meant to remind us of God’s protecting the Israelites when they were most vulnerable. As they traveled—a ragtag nation of ex-slaves—through a treacherous desert, God protected them by providing booths and a glorious pillar of clouds to shelter and guide them. At their most vulnerable, the Israelites were protected by Divine grace.
Sukkot is an equalizer. Some sukkot are nicer than others, but all are modest, vulnerable huts whether the owner is wealthy or poor.
Our tradition teaches that the festival of Sukkot can only be celebrated when the whole community is gathering the harvest and reaping the bounty of the land not simply a few wealthy individuals, as it says, “when you [plural] have gathered in the yield of your land, you shall observe the festival of YHVH.”
For a sukkah to be “kosher” it need only have a minimum of 2 ½ walls. It is not a cloistered place for the elite. On the festival of Sukkot we leave the doors of our sukkot open for all guests- friends and strangers, wealthy and destitute. We find comfort in sharing our blessings of sustenance, knowing that God’s presence is in our midst only when we create space for all.
At the time of our harvest we enter our sukkot and look up at branches above, a stand-in for the Clouds of Glory, to remind ourselves that we are here but for the grace of God; our stuff cannot protect us.
The world is blessed with an abundance of food. Hunger is a manmade problem. If we allocated our resources properly, all people could have enough to eat.
We chose to erect and occupy our sukkah here at Zuccotti Park. There is no better place to celebrate the festival of Sukkot this year than right here at Occupy Wall Street. We stand in solidarity with all those who are challenging the inequitable distribution of resources in our country, who dare to dream of a more just and compassionate society.
Chag Sameach from Occupy Judaism
Tishrei 5772 · October, 2011
The world produces enough food to feed everyone. World agriculture produces 17 percent more calories per person today than it did 30 years ago, despite a 70 percent population increase. This is enough to provide everyone in the world with at least 2,720 kilocalories (kcal) per person per day (FAO 2002, p.9). The principal problem is that many people in the world do not have sufficient land to grow, or income to purchase, enough food.
[On the Festivals] a person is obligated to be happy and in good spirits; he, his children, his wife, the members of his household and all who depend on him, … each one in a manner appropriate for him.
What is implied? … When a person eats and drinks, he is obligated to feed the stranger, the orphan and the widow and the other poor and destitute people. But one who locks the doors of his courtyard, and eats and drinks, he and his children and his wife, and does not feed or give drink to the poor and the embittered of soul, this is not a rejoicing of mitzvah, rather it is the rejoicing of his gut. And about him, it is said, “Their sacrifices will be the like the bread of mourners, all that partake of them shall become impure, because their bread was [kept] for them alone.” (Hosea 9:4). Happiness like this is a disgrace for them…
—Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Sh’vitat Yom Tov, 6:17-18
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