Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Let's go green (Your guide to Sukkot)

Welcome to the time of year when all Jews Go Green, sit under the stars and feel the joy. Happy Sukkot!

Here are some tips for the holiday:

For 40 years in the desert, G-d protected us with the "Clouds of Glory". For eight days (starting Wed. eve 22 Sep.), we'll step out of man-made comforts and remind ourselves to trust G-d (that he'll hold off the rain, keep the mozzies at bay and protect us from sukkah-breakers).

Stick your sukkah under the stars. No overhanging trees or eaves allowed. (If you're in a complex/ apartment building, make sure you have permission before erecting your Sukkah, or it won't be kosher).

You can use just about anything for Sukkah walls (including existing walls), as long as the walls don't flap like sails in the wind.

Minimum wall layout: 2 full walls + 1 mini-wall (about 1/2m).

Sukkah walls should reach from the floor to the top (you can have a gap of about 10cm at the bottom or top of the walls).

No, your Sukkah will not be waterproof. The roof needs to be made of vegetation that's been cut down (a creeper over the roof is no good).

Popular options for "shach" include: Palm, bamboo or unfinished lumber.

You know your Sukka's kosher when it's shady inside at noon. Rather have too much schach than too little. Do you need to see the stars? Yes (assuming you can see them through the city smog), but only from one spot in the Sukkah (feel free to set up a telescope through the branches).

- Make sure that your lights are waterproof.
- Create openings for ventilation, but make sure you can close them when it gets chilly.
- Pots and pans don't belong in a Sukkah, so prep the food inside and serve on platters.
- Anyone can build your Sukkah, but a Jew must place the schach leaves on top.

Let your kids paint pictures to hang in the Sukkah. Feel free to add decorations of your own.
Chabad custom is not to decorate the Sukkah, because the Mitzvah should be beautiful enough.
Whatever you do, the main decoration of a Sukkah is lots of guests.

Eat all your meals in the Sukkah (you don't have to eat snacks there, but it's ideal).

If you eat bread or wine, add the brocha:
      Boruch Atoh Ado-noy E-lohaynu Melech haoilom asher       kid'shonu bemitzvoisov vetzivonu layshayv baSukkah.

You should eat your meal in the Sukkah on first night Yom Tov, even if it rains (you can wait for the rain to stop, obviously). Any other time, you may eat inside if it rains.

Women are not obliged to eat in the Sukkah.

Spend as much time as you can in the Sukkah (take your laptop or favourite book in there).

Every day of Sukkot (except Shabbat) you should start the day with shaking the Lulav and Etrog.

Your lulav (that's the tall green palm branch) should stand straight and stay compact. If it's bent or starts to fan out, check with the rabbi if it's still ok.

BTW, the Lulav represents your spine & how you should stand tall as a Jew.

Lulav care:
Keep it moist, not too wet, and in a cool spot.

No, an Etrog is a citroen, a unique fruit grown in Israel, Morocco and Italy. It tastes much better than a lemon & smells better too.

The mitzvah is to have a beautiful Etrog, so spare no cost ; ) Look for one that's yellow, symmetrical and clean (no black spots or blotches).

BTW, your Etrog represents your heart- keep it healthy and strong.

Etrog care:
Keep it dry and safe (dropping it could make it unkosher).

To the right of your Lulav, you'll bind three branches of myrtle (a.k.a. Hadassim).  To the left you'll bind two branches of willows or Aravot (NOT weeping willows).

The myrtles represent your eyes and the willows your mouth- make sure what goes into your eyes and what comes out of your mouth is kosher.

Leafy care:
Keep them moist and cool. If the leaves fall off, check with the rabbi if they're still ok.

Do your daily Lulav-waving workout every morning (first prize: In the Sukkah).

Start with the brocha:
1. Boruch Atoh Ado-noi Elo-heinu Melech ha'olam asher kid'eshanu be'mitzvosov ve'tzivonu al netilas Lulav.

When you shake it for the first time, add:
2. Boruch Atoh Ado-noi Elo-heinu Melech ha'olam she'he'cheyanu ve'kiymanu ve'higi'yanu lizman hazeh.

All Jews point the four-species combo in all six directions (right, left, forward, up, down, back), but not all communities do it in the same sequence.

If you've got a Lulav set, share it with others. It's an easy Mitzvah to involve your family, friends and work colleagues in.

Have fun!

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Anyone see the sky lately?

In keeping with the Elul spirit of "the King in the field" (and to treat my wife's family from the U.S.), we escaped to the bush for a few days last week. Technically, there's so much to take care of just before Yom Tov that it is not the ideal time for a bush-break. Philosophically, it's perfect. Nestled under azure skies in the tranquil embrace of nature, a myriad exotic bird species flitting about, is tailor-made for introspection. As your every taut muscle unknots and your metabolism slows, you allow yourself to forget life's stresses and instead focus on its blessings.

I had two Rosh Hashana-esque realisations in the warm glow of the African sun.

We had hoped to see loads of game, but the sightings were relatively limited (to be fair, we did drive right through a 500-strong herd of buffalo and had a close-up with two hyena in broad daylight). But, driving with the wind in our faces, game-seeking in an open Landrover, I noticed the sky. In the evening, we gazed at the stars and revelled in the light of a brilliant full moon.

Have you looked at the sky lately? I'm not asking if you have noticed the blue haze in your peripheral vision. How often do we actually look at and appreciate the sky? We spend the majority of our time indoors and drive around stashed away inside a car. Unless you walk a lot, you could go for weeks, maybe months without noticing the sky!

Chassidus teaches that an advantage humans have over animals is that we walk on two legs. Creatures that walk on all fours can't easily see the sky, humans can. Ironically, in the bush animals see the sky, while in the cities humans don't. For that matter, we don't feel the open air because we're confined by the man-made spaces we spend most of our time in.

Yesterday, I visited a doctor who is unwell. He commented on the high rate of malignancies in society and how he felt that radiation must be a big contributor to tumours. As we chatted, we wondered if maybe living cooped-up as we do is an equally relevant factor. Humans are supposed to step out into nature from time to time to release our stuff. We're supposed to "see the sky" to remain healthy.

And that means more than taking a holiday. It means seeing that the world is bigger than my issues. It means appreciating that Hashem takes care of innumerable ecosystems, which He manages perfectly, so surely He can take care of ours too.

We need to look at the sky, step into the open to feel the breeze on our faces and to relinquish control to the One who really is in control.

That was the second realisation I had. You can stress in the game reserve too. "I have to see lion", "I hope we see all the Big Five", "Let's try that area, maybe we'll see Rhino there". Or, you can relax and enjoy the experience, knowing that you have absolutely no way to determine which animal will walk into your path.

Admittedly, we were dismayed to find fresh leopard spoor and no leopard. But, we soon realised that we could do nothing to see one animal more than we were meant to see. It is easier to accept fate, or Providence as Jews call it, in the serenity of the Savannah. It's a more challenging in the office or at home, especially in tough times.

Yet, that is the challenge of the Jew: To accept that Hashem is in control and that He knows best, and to focus on becoming the best person each of us can become, because that is in our hands.

So, here's a thought for this Rosh Hashanah. Look at the sky to remind yourself that there are always higher and greater things to aim for in the coming year. And relax. Trust that Hashem will take care of everything you need when you concentrate on trying to do what He expects.