Every year I take great pleasure in creating a beautiful display of gourds, flowers, fruits, and vegetables for our sukkah at Simchat Yisrael in West Haven, Connecticut. We are blessed to have an enclosed backyard in a mostly non-residential neighborhood, so we are able to gather on erev Sukkot under a full moon to share a soup and bread dinner. Our worship team cranks up the sound system and we sing, dance, and thank G-d for His many blessings. Later in the week, we invite everyone to have Shabbos lunch in the sukkah.
Several years ago, I was dismayed to come into the synagogue on Shabbos morning to find the gourds were noticeably missing from my display. I only needed to go into the yard to see what had happened to them. Somehow, the gourds were smashed all over our backyard. “BOYS,” I raised my voice shrilly. I knew exactly who the culprits would be. A little birdie told me that two of our most energetic teens had used the gourds for batting practice. They took turns throwing the gourds in the air and hitting “home runs” with them. Now, I confess that my tone of voice was not kind when I explained what the consequences would be if they ever repeated this stunt again, but they are really quite sweet kids, and they promised they would clean them up if I would agree that they could have next year’s gourds when we are finished with them. DEAL!
Fast forward to the next year. Now, not being an outdoor kind of girl, I had not been out back for a while. Our property can get pretty hot in the summer, and I preferred to spend Shabbos afternoons shmoozing in our community room, but Sukkot was coming and we would need to have a cleanup day.
One of our elders went out to assess the situation and he quickly called me to come outside. I couldn’t imagine what the big deal was. All I saw were knee high weeds covering most of the property but he insisted I come take a closer look. Then I saw what caused him to be so excited. Our entire large backyard was covered with vines, and on those vines were beautiful gourds… dozens of them. The seeds from last year’s shattered gourds had taken root, grown, and were now everywhere, and we had done nothing to make this happen. We hadn’t planted them, we hadn’t watered them, we did not tend to them, and yet, there they were and they were beautiful.
I immediately thought of the parable of the sower and its significance to us as we long to fill our synagogues with Jewish people that worship the Messiah and to have our loved ones come to faith. We need to remember that G-d only requires us to drop seeds on fertile ground and He will do the rest. I thought of the parable of the bread and the fishes and how it did not occur to the talmidim to trust the Messiah to provide for His people. We also resemble those doubters, but G-d is faithful, even when we are not.
The Sukkot story is not an occasion linked to a particular date or time. We are just reminded that G-d called out His people to leave their homes and dwell in booths and to look up through leafy boughs and remember the many miracles that G-d has done in love for His children. We are to do the same.
Life goes on. Those young men are grown now. But, every year on Sukkot my mind wanders to the image of the gourds growing amongst the weeds and I thank G-d for his faithfulness to us. May this Sukkot and this new year fill you with a sense of awe that the Master of the Universe has come to tabernacle with us.
Merryl Eaton is the rebbitzen of Congregation Simchat Yisrael in New Haven, Connecticut. She serves as the congregation’s children’s education chair and on the UMJC steering committee as the president of Achot, the Union’s national sisterhood project. Merryl loves her job as the director of an advocacy and education project where she trains and mobilized people who are poor to speak out on social justice issues. This past July, Merryl was the first female recipient of the UMJC’s Lifetime Sacrifice and Service Award.