Family MattersOctober 4, 2012 - 5:00 am
“The whole company that had returned from exile built temporary shelters and lived in them. From the days of Joshua son of Nun until that day, the Israelites had not celebrated it like this. And their joy was very great.”— Nehemiah 8:17
After the building of the Second Temple, the leaders of the Jewish people, especially Ezra the Scribe and Nehemiah, decided to build on this physical accomplishment by setting corresponding spiritual goals, culminating in the Jewish people’s recommitment to God’s word as recorded in the Torah.
As the verse we read describes, the achievement of this recommitment represented a spiritual high point that had not been reached since the earliest days of the Jewish people’s existence, shortly after the exodus and sojourn in the desert.
Intriguingly, the very first act undertaken during this spiritual revival was the national celebration of Sukkot. Why Sukkot? Of all the holidays, of all the commandments in all the Torah, why was Sukkot so important as to be mentioned first among all the laws to which the Jewish people honored during the days of Ezra and Nehemiah?
Perhaps the answer lies in the nature of Sukkot itself. On this holiday, Jews are commanded to retreat from their homes into makeshift huts for the entirety of the holiday. Naturally, these huts are not nearly as elaborate or spacious as our normal houses, where we live the rest of the year.
As a result, the entire family – sometimes even extended family, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, or grandchildren – has to crowd into a pretty small space. This ends up being a wonderful time to spend time with family. While during the rest of the year, everyone is busy doing his or her own thing, Sukkot is a time to gather together and reconnect.
So one of the first principles Ezra and Nehemiah wanted to highlight during this spiritual revival was the importance of family. They understood that in order to build a proper connection to God, one must first appreciate the importance of family – our built-in support system, and companions in faith.
Nowadays, when family values seem to be faltering, and challenges to faith abound, a strong, committed, loving family is more important than ever. Sukkot offers us all the opportunity to re-connect with our loved ones, and strengthen the natural bonds that already bind us.