A special custom of this holiday of Sukkot is the chanting of the Book of Ecclesiastes. Known as one of the Five Megillot, the five scrolls chanted during major holidays and festivals, one of the central themes of this text is the transience of material existence. This is also a central theme of Sukkot, which encourages us to venture out from the comfort of homes and share meals and festivities under the stars. While many of us enjoy many comforts, the
festival Sukkot teaches us that we would not be able to live such a life without the many forces by which our world provides for us. While spending time with
loved ones and guests under a physical sukkah, we may better appreciate the sukkat shalom, the shelter of peace, that God’s world provides for us.
In Ecclesiastes Rabbah, the compilation of midrashim or rabbinic interpretations on this text, we read a beautiful teaching about our connection with our Earth. It states, “Whatever the Holy One created in the human, was also created in the earth as a model for humanity”. This teaching seems to suggest that our charge as humans is to not only nurture and safeguard God’s world, but also to learn from it. Alternately, the care with which we approach our own physical health should also extend to caring for the world, which provides us sustenance.
What can we learn from the natural world? The amount of answers to this question could extend far beyond the scope of this article, but it is fair to say that
the harmony and cooperation that we see in the many biological processes of our world show us how different people can work and live together to create a
diverse and beautiful world. What our world also demonstrates is balance. The death of old organisms provides nutrients to sustain the growth of new ones. The waste produced by some becomes the fuel for others. As we read in Ecclesiastes, “To everything there is a season, a time for everything under heaven” (3:1). What this shows us is that when balance is ignored, and any organism exploits the resources of their environment, the success of the whole environment is at stake.
We just concluded a season of holidays emphasizing our spiritual health and praying for our physical health in the coming year. The transition to Sukkot then directs our attention to the health of our greater world. As many recent studies exploring the effects that certain chemicals and farming practices can have on our health, we see that our own personal health and the health of our environment are inexorably intertwined. As the Divinely Ordained caretakers of this world, we have an obligation to ensure that its beauty, balance, and diversity is maintained.
May we all take this teaching to heart by bringing intention to the ways in which we treat our Earth and treat our bodies. In order for us to reach the spiritual growth for which we yearned during the High Holidays, we must ensure that the physical health of our world remains a priority for us. For our benefit, and the benefit of subsequent generations, may we not ignore our call to care for God’s creation and ensure that will continue to sustain us, and all of the creatures with which we share it.
כן יהי רצון
May it Be God’s Will
Student Rabbi Ross Z. Levy