Yesterday, many of us experienced the drama of the Yom Kippur N’eilah service and heard the closing blast of the shofar. But lest you think that the Gates of Repentance are shut tight until next year and our fates are sealed, let me share another idea.
I learned this teaching — that the “gates” don’t truly close until the eighth day of Sukkot, right before Shemini Atzeret, on a day known as Hoshana Rabba (The Great Supplication). The Zohar, a collection of Jewish mystical writings, teaches that while the judgment for the new year is sealed on Yom Kippur, it is not “delivered” until the end of Sukkot, giving us an extra measure of time to lessen the impact of G-d’s verdict for the new year.
It only amplifies what I already love about Sukkot and its embrace of the land and the bounty of the earth, which I feel so keenly this year. While a sukkah is an enclosure, it’s somewhat COVID-friendly since it’s built outdoors, only has walls on three sides, and has a roof that is deliberately open to the sky. Please understand, for safety’s sake, strict social distancing and masking rules should apply on Sukkot, but what a joy to celebrate a holiday out of doors!
My bigger point is that there are opportunities for spiritual work and repentance with the upcoming festivals of Sukkot (my favorite Jewish holiday), Shemini Atzeret, and Simchat Torah.
Sukkot is a reminder of human vulnerability. It’s a time to remember that too many suffer from hunger and homelessness. It’s an opportunity to support the Jewish and other shelters that protect them: The Zaban Paradies Center serving couples at The Temple, and Rebecca’s Tent serving homeless women at Congregation Shearith Israel. It’s an opportunity to support Federation’s 2021 Community Campaign, the JF&CS Kosher Food Pantry, our friends at the Atlanta Community Food Bank, and so many other nonprofits that serve people in need.
And it’s a time to remember our beloved planet earth. Fires blaze on the west coast, glaciers the size of Delaware fall into the sea, and temperature extremes generate multiple hurricanes off our shores. What will we do to green our community? Let’s use these remaining days to challenge ourselves to put the environment on our agenda this coming year.
Along with acts of loving-kindness, t’shuva (repentence), tefila (prayer), and tzedakah (righteous giving) are our uniquely Jewish tools for world repair and a better future.Even the smallest efforts have the power to change. I love how Federation plays a role for justice in our city by engaging young adults in Repair the World and Serve the Moment. Find a mitzvah with your name on it and do something kind and good — yes, there’s still time!