Some of my favorite times of the Jewish year are coming right up. I know what you must be thinking: “The Cantor must love singing Avinu Malkeinu on Rosh hashanah!” Or, “There is surely nothing more exciting and meaningful than chanting Kol Nidrei on the most solemn day of the year.” Don’t get me wrong, I love the grandeur and solemnity of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. But, what I really look forward to at this time of year is the antidote to these awe inspiring services: Tashlich and Sukkot.
After the formality and pomp of Rosh Hashanah in our magnificent sanctuary, what better way to enhance the experience of the day than to get outside and take a walk by a beautiful stream. And rather than sitting in a synagogue seat, you get to stretch your legs and move around freely. The synagogue is a place of words, Hebrew, English, reading together or listening. At Tashlich, we symbolically cast off our sins by tearing bread crumbs and tossing them into the water. This simple act, and the silent thoughts that accompany it, replace the formal readings of our prayerbook. We will still sing and share words, but somehow, singing and reading feel very different as we stand casually together in a park. Here we are not separated from the world around us, neither nature nor other people. “Rosh Hashanah has left the building!”
At Sukkot, our experience of the natural world is expanded. As opposed to Tashlich, the outdoor alternative to the primary synagogue experience of Rosh Hashanah, Sukkot’s primary purpose is to commune with the outdoors. That does not mean that it is entirely about the natural world, rather it is about our human connection to nature. We don’t just go into the woods, we build a sukkah, a temporary structure which allows us to spend time more comfortably outside. And in particular, the roof over our heads must be made of living branches and be sparse enough to allow us to see the stars. What a lovely compromise! Let’s have some measure of manmade comfort and protection, but not so much as to block our view of the heavens.
While both Tashlich and Sukkot take us out of the synagogue, our synagogue community shares in these celebrations. Join us for a Tashlich picnic lunch after Rosh Hashanah services. And come “leisheiv basukkah”—hang out with your friends in our sukkah. I look forward to sharing a full range of holiday experiences with you all in the days to come.
Cantor Randall Schloss