A very long time ago, our Israelite ancestors were practicing a particular ritual of thanksgiving at this Sukkot Harvest Festival time of year:
And it shall be, when you come into the land that יה G-d is about to give you in estate, and you take hold of it and dwell in it, you shall take from the first yield of all the fruit of the soil that you will bring from your land which יה G-d is about to give you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that יה G-d chooses to make the Name dwell there. You shall come to the priest who will be in those days,and you shall say to him, “I have told today to יה your G-d that I have come into the land which יה swore to our ancestors to give us.” The priest shall take the basket from your hand and lay it down before the altar of יה your G-d. And you shall recite before יה your G-d: “My father was an Aramean about to perish, and he went down to Egypt, and he sojourned there….and יה brought us out of Egypt….to this place, and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. And now, look, I have brough the first yield of the fruit of the soil that you gave me, יה.” (Deut. 26.1-10, excerpted; trans. Robert Alter, The Five Books of Moses)
This is the earliest record we have of a formal recitation; usually it is our acts only that are prescribed. Consider the acts, and the words, which our tradition puts in our mouths in these moments:
1. when you become aware that the promise of your life is being fulfilled (through lots of hard work of tilling and tending, of course), you are to take from the first fruits of that fulfillment.
2. you are to bring those first fruits, in whatever form they take, and donate them.
3. there is a witness (the priest) to your act.
4. you articulate a formal version of your community’s identity story
It’s hard to concentrate on Sukkot when we’ve just put so much energy into Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, but if the two major Days of Awe are thesis and antithesis, then Sukkot is really a powerful form of synthesis, of demonstrating that one has actually reached a new place because of the Days of Awe we’ve just observed. On Rosh HaShanah we reflect and consider, and on Yom Kippur we face the truth of our lives – and on Sukkot, then, one might have something new to say about the real “fruit” of one’s life.
Note, also, that this is one more ritual act you cannot carry out alone. You need a priestly witness who represents G-d and the community in which you have been working on the seeding, weeding, and harvesting of your life.
Your life is a field full of glorious fruits and flowers. Look over the field in its richness. What fruits of your life are ready for harvest on this Sukkot? And how will you give thanks by sharing them?
חג שמח – hag sameakh, may you celebrate the abundance in your life during these days of our Sukkot Festival