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In April of 2013, President Barack Obama stood in front of reporters and cameras to offer comfort to a country hit with a devastating tragedy. The city of Boston was shaken to its core by two explosions that injured innocent bystanders and took the lives of three people. In his speech, the president noted the willingness of strangers to selflessly come together for a greater good, “When exhausted runners, including our troops and veterans, who never expected to see such carnage on the streets back home, become first responders themselves, tending to the injured, that's real power. When Bostonians carry victims in their arms, deliver water and blankets, line up to give blood, open their homes to total strangers, give them rides back to reunite with their families, that's love.”
When hit with extreme circumstances, the ability for strangers to connect, share, and love one another is remarkable. Neighbors that ordinarily offer a simple nod to each other suddenly make meals together and share resources. People offer assistance and moral support to complete strangers and go out of their way to help and comfort others.
This phenomenon is not unusual. Communities have collectively risen to the occasion to share with one another in the wake of devastation for centuries—the attacks of 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina are only two such notable disasters in modern history in addition to the Boston bombing. After the dust settles, stories of tremendous acts of heroism and love begin to spread. Decades after the Holocaust, books are still being written about the courageous souls who risked their lives to save those of complete strangers.
Sukkot reminds us what it means to connect to others, sharing kindness and joy. During the seven days and seven nights of Sukkot we convene under a sukkah—a temporary shelter commemorating the homes in which the Israelites dwelled while wandering through the desert for forty years—to share food, recite blessings, and bask in this spirit of kindness and joy. Indeed, there are no strangers under a Sukkah.
In his book, Days of Connection, Michael Berg explains that we can tap into the unique energy available during the week of Sukkot through our words and deeds, “First we need to express kindness and sharing in everything we do…By bringing these qualities into our lives, both in our dealings with other individuals and in our dealings with the world as a whole, we will create a connection to the Surrounding Light that manifests mercy and sharing likewise for us.” This is the spirit of Sukkot—comforting others, sharing with our neighbors, and showing love.
The survival of the Israelites while wandering through the desert rested on their ability to work together, support one another, and share. They were far from perfect, receiving stern words from Moses when they strayed from the Light from time to time. But during Sukkot we remember their perseverance and ability to stay connected to each other during the most challenging times.
When we reach out to others, assist them, and show them kindness, we do more than simply support them through challenging times. We also set two very powerful forces into motion. First, by setting an example and showing others what desire for the sake of sharing truly means, we make it more likely that the act will be paid forward in the future. We show people through our actions what it means to act from the heart and inspire them to act from theirs. Secondly, “like attracts like.” By celebrating the Season of Joy, we usher more joy into our lives. Michael Berg explains, “The Light of this week can’t enter our lives without joy, just as it can’t enter without sharing. Indeed, the kabbalists teach that the concepts of sharing and joy are intimately related. One leads to the other, and together they evoke the Light that awaits us during Sukkot.”
The acts of kindness that we commit this week paired with the love that we share impact humanity as a whole. While we recall the challenges faced by the Israelites in the desert, we need not experience devastation in order to feel connected to a community. Let Sukkot be an opportunity to create bonds with those around you. Send Light into the lives of others and it will shine back into yours.