Sukkot Highlights Climate Change


As Sukkot approaches, we find ourselves checking the weather often to see how it will affect our ability to build the sukkah, decorate the sukkah and eat in the sukkah. We wonder if it will be too cold, too hot or if the bugs will be out. Will we need jackets? Coats? Hot soup? What is the rain plan? Sukkot is naturally connected to the climate, weather and agriculture.

In biblical times, holidays revolved around nature: the moon and harvests. The Sukkot, the booths, are reminiscent of the temporary dwellings the Jewish people built as they wandered in the desert. The sukkah is fragile. Over the course of the holiday, we need to take care of the sukkah. Over the week, schach, the greenery that covers the roof, starts to wilt and dry up, the decorations start to droop and the remains of the holiday meals are evident on the ground. A storm, however, can take down the sukkah or blow the schach off, rendering it unkosher.

Our environment is equally fragile, as we know from the effects of climate change. We should remember that, like the sukkah, the environment needs care. Strong natural forces and human disregard have the ability to inflict detrimental consequences on our planet. Both are precarious.

On Sukkot, we are commanded to bring together the hadass, a myrtle branch; the etrog, a citron fruit; the lulav, a close frond from the date palm tree; and the aravah, a willow branch. We bring those four items together and wave them during parts of the prayer. One accepted interpretation finds that the four species allude to body parts. The hadass represents the eye. The etrog represents the heart. The lulav represents the spine. The aravah represents the mouth.

Consequently, use your eye, the hadass, to be aware of the dangers confronting our earth and the damage being done to our environment. Care about the environment and its effect, just like the etrog’s beautiful heart. Just as a spine stands tough and strong, stay true to your convictions and stand up for them to bring about positive changes. Finally, use your mouth to speak up and become an advocate.

Deuteronomy 16, verses 14-15 states, “ושמחת בחגך… והיית אך שמח.” This translates to “You shall rejoice on your festivals​ and should be fully happy.” On Sukkot, we are commanded to be happy. This raises the question of how can one be commanded to rejoice? Commentators have answered by saying, the more gratitude people express, the happier they are. There are many blessings over the course of the Sukkot prayers in which we express gratitude. With the current focus on climate change, I am grateful. I am grateful for the world I live in, and I am grateful to my fellow teenagers who spoke out against climate change and who have focused us on the need to be appreciative of our world and to treasure it. This also requires action. Sukkot too requires us to take action—to build a sukkah, to bring the four species together and to wave the lulav.

Sarah Horvath is a junior at Abraham Joshua Heschel High School in Manhattan. She is an Editorial Board Member of Fresh Ink for Teens.