Sunday, October 9, 2011

Sukkot Water Customs Lead to an Ecology Lesson

The search for unusual Sukkot customs continues. This time I found a practical joke custom of sprinkling water on the synagogue service leader while he reads the prayer for rain.

Hmmm...not exactly environmentally-correct for our day and age. Which led me to another search: The connection between Sukkot, water and environmental studies. I found a wonderful website written by  British Rabbi Lawrence Rigal z"l, explaining all aspects of Sukkot, including the connection between rain and this festival.  He explains that: 1) During the Temple period one of the most important ceremonies was pouring water on the altar during each of the 7 days of the holiday as a way of asking God to bring a wet year; 2) the prayer for rain is said on Shemini Atzeret -- the holiday immediately following Sukkot. Similarly; 3) Shmini Atzeret is the first time that we recite the Shmoneh Esrai "add-on" one-line prayer requesting wind and rain for the winter; 4) Next,  Rabbi Rigal gives a "guided tour" of the lulav. The Aravah that we attach to the lulav is a leafy branch of the willow tree, which he notes is especially associated with water. This sparked my interest so I googled willow tree and water, and look what I found -- a fount (pardon the water pun) of information about willows in North America. Now let's connect the dots with willow trees in Israel, and at the same time learn about the 4 species used on Sukkot. The palm leaves of the date palm tree stand center stage, and as Rabbi Rigal notes in his fifth point, 5) the shaking of the Lulav makes the sound of falling rain. Now that's a first for me. Sounds like we invented the first white noise machine.

Why all the interest and concern about rain? Because originally Jews were not doctors or lawyers. They were farmers, and the water resources produced by rain were (and continue to be) a lifeline for growth and sustenance. Humans need water to drink. So do crops and without crops say goodbye to the food pyramid which keeps us alive and healthy.

In essence, Sukkot is the first ecology oriented holiday on the Jewish calendar, so this Sukkot let's provide our children and students with more than simple Sukkot basics. Let's explain how vital water is to our daily lives, why Israel depends on its short rainy season and how we can conserve water.

Does this wet your appetite for more ecology lessons from the Bible? Check out my new book Green Bible Stories for Children and have a Chag Sameach.


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