If you looked into the sky last night, you may have noticed a magical moon.
Interestingly enough this rather rare lunar phenomenon has a special name. It is called a “blood moon,” as at times the moon actually appeared to be blood red. Perhaps even more interesting is the fact that this “blood moon” occurred twice this year. The first time was on the eve of Passover (our Spring Harvest Festival) and last night (before our Fall Harvest Festival, Sukkot). Yes, tonight is the first night of Sukkot, and as this magnificent moon served to remind us, the Jewish harvest festivals are linked to lunar cycles.
For those who have erected sukkahs at home, the lattice roof is supposed to be built in such a way as to enable us to appreciate the moon and stars from inside this flimsy hut. The walls, too, are to be open enough to our surroundings to enable us to connect to the natural world around us (we can do without the mosquitoes).
Sukkot is a holiday that reminds us that even though we may call ourselves the “People of the Book,” the truth is that we have always been a people of the land. Our harvest holidays of Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot each mark not only an historical event in our collective heritage (the Exodus, the giving of the Ten Commandments, and the wandering of the Israelites through the desert) but also a pivotal point in the agricultural calendar (the beginning of spring, the new planting season, and the last harvest before the winter rains). Every year at these critical moments we stop to take stock of where we are in relation to the earth and, above all else, we are commanded to give thanks for what we have.
For the next seven days, Jews around the world will immerse themselves into the ‘natural world’ by eating, praying, and even sleeping in an outdoor hut shaded from the sun but exposed to the starlight, and the elements. We will celebrate the festival with an ancient agricultural ritual involving the shaking of the lulav and etrog. Every aspect of the holiday serves as a powerful reminder of our relationship with God’s world and intimate connection with and dependence on our natural resources.
Whether you have a sukkah or not, try set aside some time in the coming days to step outside and appreciate the glory of the natural world. Go for a lunchtime walk and enjoy Houston outdoors before it gets too rainy, or have a meal in the cool evening breeze. Whatever may you choose to do, try to take time each night to glace at the moon and realize that our ancestors have been using its cycles as a way to mark our festivals for eternity.