Rabbi Bronstein Reflects on the Meaning of Sukkot

Bet Am Shalom Rabbi Lester Bronstein displays Sukkot symbols, Lulav, left and Etrog (right).

By Stephen E. Lipken


Reflecting on the meaning of Sukkot, Rabbi Lester Bronstein, Bet Am Shalom, White Plains stated, “Once upon a time, in the days of the Torah, the holiday of Sukkot was the High Holy Day.  Rosh Hashanah was only important because it signified the new month in which Sukkot falls. Yom Kippur was likewise important only as a preparation of spirit and mind for the great holiday of booths five days later.


“In other words, our High Holy Days were not the great gatherings they are today. That honor went to Sukkot.  How much has changed!


“Sukkot is literally a ‘gathering’ festival, both of crops and of people.  In ancient Israel, it marked the fall harvest and the beginning of the much-needed rainy season.   Israel has a Mediterranean climate, meaning that rain only falls from fall to spring.  Our ancestors came together in great numbers in the Temple in Jerusalem during this holiday to dance around the altar with libations of water.  Collectively they prayed for water and not drought, plenty and not starvation, life and not death.  It was very joyous, but the underlying theme was deadly serious.


“Over the millennia, our people developed the unique holiday we have today. By spending our meal times in flimsy booths all week, we bring ourselves back to that time of direct connection to the seasons, to the earth, to the weather and to our awareness of the fragility of life. 


“By waving the lulav and etrog, we connect ourselves to the core elements of nature of which we are a vital part.  


“The lulav, the etrog, and the sukkah are blatantly primitive.  They are mysterious.  They are in no way logical or sensible.  They don’t ‘mean something’ in an obvious way.  In order for us to enter this holiday fully, we have to allow ourselves to suspend cynicism and let the beauty of the symbols wash over us.


“Only then does Sukkot come alive for us, and only then can we truly come alive Jewishly. Chag sameach—a joyous festival to all,” Bronstein concluded.