Joy Is A Religious Obligation

Jewish tradition recognizes Sukkot as a celebration and sharing of our material possessions.

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But making joy holy means being selective in the enjoyment of God's gifts, not worshiping those gifts or those who own them. The first and foremost expression of this insight is to share the bounty and the joy. Gifts from the harvest were given to the poor: "You shall rejoice before the Lord. You, your son and daughter, manservant and maid, the Levite... the stranger, the orphan, the widow in your midst" (Deuteronomy 16:11).

A special holiday feature is the ushpizin, hospitality for honored guests. By tradition, every night a different biblical personality is invited to visit the sukkah and join the company. A custom that has been growing recently is to invite great matriarchs of the Jewish people as well. Families invite stand-ins for these biblical figures--fellow human beings, especially those who are needy or who need a sukkah in which to eat. This mitzvah is especially important in contemporary society; since bureaucracies and institutions take care of welfare and medical coverage, people often forget the importance of personal acts of gemilut chasadim (loving-kindness). The Rabbis say that such acts are the foundations of the world because they are fundamental expressions of human solidarity and human contact in a largely impersonal world.

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Rabbi Irving Greenberg

Rabbi Irving (Yitz) Greenberg was the president of Jewish Life Network/Steinhardt Foundation and founding president of CLAL, the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership. He also is the author of For the Sake of Heaven and Earth: The New Encounter Between Judaism and Christianity (2004, Jewish Publication Society).