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The Power of Welcoming

With the festival of Sukkot upon us, I can't help but think of the Israeli film "Ushpizin," which - among many other plot points - tells the story of an Ultra-Orthodox man, Moshe, who spends the only money he has on a stunningly perfect Etrog for his Sukkot celebration and receives little but frustration in return for his foolish actions.

I can actually relate to this story on some levels. You see, every year, my wife and I take a look at our bank accounts after the High Holy Days and freak out for a brief moment: "Where did all our money go?!" Like Moshe, we too can be a bit zealous in our holiday celebrations. But this is where our similarities end. While Moshe spends his money on an Etrog that only he and his wife will enjoy, my wife and I spend our money on festive meals. And not just for ourselves, but for family and friends and people we don't even know. And so we don't mind having to watch our spending in the weeks leading up to and following the holidays, if it means being able to celebrate with community.

In fact, one of the central Mitzvot of Sukkot is Hakhnasat Orchim - or welcoming guests. This Mitzvah is based on the Kabbalistic tradition of Ushpizin, in which people welcome into their Sukkah the spirit of Biblical figures, and thereby welcome into their lives the values taught by those figures. But this custom has grown beyond the welcoming of spirits to the welcoming of actual people - especially people outside our usual circles of family and friends. And it is through this act of welcoming guests that we gain an even stronger sense of community.

In his book "Relational Judaism," Dr. Ron Wolfson provides numerous examples of how synagogues across the country are using food as a way to strengthen their communities. For instance, if someone shows up at a meeting and doesn't know anyone else there, it's over a cup of coffee and a tray of cookies that conversation will begin to blossom. Even here at Temple Aliyah, we offer a Kiddush lunch every Shabbat in order to bring the community together over a delicious (and free!) meal.

But something even more magical occurs when we connect over food not in the synagogue, but in our own homes. Throughout our daily lives, we find ourselves surrounded by barriers which separate us from others: our cars, our offices, and especially our homes. So it's understandable that we would feel uncomfortable opening up our homes to acquaintances or strangers. Yet it's this simple act of making ourselves vulnerable that forms the foundation of community. This act shows others that they too can be vulnerable with us and invites them to be more open in conversation. Eventually, people will get to know one another - not just what they do for a living or where they like to eat, but what gets them up in the morning and keeps them up at night. And once this begins to happen, the sacred bonds of community become resolute and enduring.

So I invite you to use this Sukkot as the impetus to open up your home to those beyond your usual circle of family and friends. Reach out to the greater community and invite others to join you for a holiday or Shabbat meal, or even just a cup of coffee. I guarantee you, this will be one investment you will not regret.


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