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Thoughts on Shabbat Sukkot

10/15/2022 09:27:54 AM


Guest Rabbi Rob Bonem

Thoughts from Rabbi Rob Bonem at BIJC on Shabbat Sukkot 5783/2022
Please note, these are a basic outline of Rabbi Rob’s words, but were not intended to be a written d’var Torah, and were not delivered verbatim. Rabbi Rob has graciously allowed us to share his thoughts here but asks that they not be reproduced without permission. To request permission please email

Good Shabbos!   Chag Sameach!   

Before we talk about Sukkot, I’d like to tell you a little about myself. I've led an interesting life.  I'm from Chicago, but have lived in Paris, Berlin, Jerusalem, Santa Barbara, Tucson, LA and the Bay area.   I'm a Rabbi, teacher, and life coach.   As a Rabbi, I'm trained to work with people from all denominations (or none).   This matches my own practice.   There are parts of me that are Orthodox, parts of me that are Conservative, parts of me that are Reform, and parts that are Renewal.   You may see the different parts of me today.   Forgive me if I do something that is different from your practice.   Forgive me if I use language that is not the language you use.   For example, I use the word G-d.   Some people use the word Sovereign, or Source, or Spirit.   Please just translate my words into words that work for you.  

As I mentioned, I am also a teacher.   In addition to Jewish topics, I have taught psychology, American government, English as a second language, and ballroom dance.   I tend to dance during my singing.   Please feel free to dance today.  

And I work as a spiritual life coach.   I have a master's in clinical psychology.   These areas all overlap.   I strive to make the spiritual practical and the practical spiritual.   

I think Sukkot is one of our most underrated holidays.   Many Jews emphasize Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.    But Sukkot is referred to as “Z’man Simchateinu,” the time for joy.   It seems to me to be shame that we are overlooking, or diminishing, the time to celebrate. One of the ways we celebrate is by singing - and maybe dancing - for Hallel, which we’ll do together today, but there are other ways that we can celebrate the joy of Sukkot.

Sukkot is a harvest festival.   This was, in ancient days, the time we would go out to harvest our crops.   We would live in Sukkot, near the fields, so as not to lose time traveling.   And we would rejoice in our harvest.   I would like to suggest that today, there are three ways that we can harvest, even if we don’t live lives that are directly connected to agriculture.  One is the material world.   One is the spiritual world.  And one is anything else you might want to rejoice in.   

First, I would like to speak about the material world.   While most of us don't go out to the fields anymore, this is still a time to be thankful for our physical goods.   This includes not only the food we have to eat, but also the clothing we wear, the homes that we have, and any money we may have set aside.   One reason we live in Sukkot, in booths, at this time, is to be aware of the great prosperity that we have in our regular lives.   And this alone is a reason for us to be happy, to rejoice, and to give thanks.   This prosperity is our harvest in the material world.  

A second harvest is our harvest of the spiritual world.   If you did the work of the days of awe, if you did the work of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, you are now reaping or harvesting the benefits of that work.   At the synagogue where I worked this year, I lead the congregation in a process of forgiveness.   If you were able to forgive those who hurt you, you have gotten rid of some anger and resentment.   If you asked for forgiveness from those you have hurt, you have gotten rid of guilt.   And, by the way, if you have not yet done this work, it is not too late.   It is never too late to forgive, or to ask for forgiveness.   If you have done any of these things this year, you are probably feeling happier and lighter.   And this is a moment for us to realize it, to remember it, and to celebrate it.   This, and any other spiritual work we've done the last year, is our spiritual harvest.   And this is our second way of harvesting.   

And if there is anything else that you are thankful for, in this year, or in this life, you can also harvest that at this time.   I am including in this category anything else that may be a cause for celebration in your life.   If you have any measure of health, you can rejoice in it.   If you have any measure of good relationships with others, this is something you can rejoice in.   If you have any measure of happiness, this is also a cause for joy.   

Now, I do not like to just give a speech up here.   I like my teachings to be practical.   So please take a moment to think of a couple of things you are grateful.   Appreciate them.   See them as a cause for joy.   Be thankful.   If you are comfortable, share one with the person next to you.   And now, share it with G-d.   And give thanks.      

There are many aspects to this holiday that bring us joy.   We eat well and eat together.   We sing, and dance, and wave the lulav.  And we harvest.   We take a moment to appreciate, to harvest the material prosperity in our lives.   We take a moment to appreciate, to harvest the spiritual work, and its fruits, in our lives.   And we take a moment to appreciate, to harvest, anything else that is good in our lives.   

I want to thank you all for allowing me to be with you today.   If you find any part of what I did today helpful, please tell me - that is part of my harvest.     And I want to bless you, and bless all of us, that we have a good harvest this year, that we have a good harvest in the year to come, and a good harvest all the years of our life.     

Thu, June 1 2023 12 Sivan 5783