Tonight I write in honor of a baby girl born on Monday in Jerusalem to Jordan and Chana Oshira Block. Jordan is a frequent contributor to Derech Tsofeh. Everyone is doing well. Also, welcome to several new members of this list, who have just joined Scouting!
This Sunday night, we begin Sukkot – the Festival of Scout skills!
Well, it’s not really known by that name, but the mitzvot related to Sukkot involve Scout skills. They are found in the last few verses of Chapter 24 of Vayikra (Leviticus).
First, there’s astronomy. God commands us to celebrate Sukkot on the 15th day of the seventh month, when you gather in the crop of the land, and dwell in booths. Since the Jewish calendar is based on the lunar cycle, we have to watch the Moon to know when the new month is. But since the commandment says “when you gather in the crop of the land” it has to be during the fall harvest. Because the solar calendar based on 365 days does not exactly match the lunar calendar, we have to add a month during our leap years (which occur seven times during a 19-year cycle) to make sure Sukkot comes during the fall harvest.
Then, there’s plant identification and knots. We are commanded to take four species (the Arbah Minim). These are the fruit of the citron tree – the etrog (which looks like a large lemon and is very fragrant) – and branches of date palm, myrtle and willow. We hold these together with pieces of the date palm woven to make a holder.
Next is finding directions. When the Sages studied what it means to “take” the Arbah Minim, they interpreted this to mean the bundle of branches should be waved to the South, East, North and West, representing the four corners of the Earth (the Arbah Kanfos) and up and down, representing God’s creation of the world. (Talmud, Sukkot 37b).
And there’s pioneering – lots of pioneering. God commands us to dwell in booths, so we have to build aSukkah. It is just the kind of shelter you would make on a campout – sturdy enough to withstand the elements, but informal and makeshift, so it can be taken down easily. Why is this?
Because we’re camping. God commands us to live in booths. God “caused the Children of Israel to dwell in booths when I took them from the land of Egypt.” The blessing we say before we eat a meal in the Sukkah is to bless God “Who has commanded us to dwell in the Sukkah.” It’s our temporary home.
Did you notice the bonus Scout skill there? How did we leave the land of Egypt? We walked (and we walked, and we walked). Now, we get to add hiking. We also take a long walk around the aisles of the sanctuary with a Torah scroll as we say the prayer Hoshanos.
And we practice environmentally friendly Scouting. The top of the Sukkah is covered with schach, cuttings from trees and plants, so we recycle things that would otherwise be thrown away.
Last, in the true spirit of Scouting, this all takes place in the fall, when the rainy season in Israel and other parts of the world is just beginning, so we get to read the weather signs to see if we can eat our meals in theSukkah. Even if it is raining we are supposed to eat in the Sukkah, unless the rain is very heavy. This is in keeping with the best of Scouting traditions. Lord Baden-Powell’s daughter, Betty Clay, once told me during a rainy day camping at Gilwell Park, “My father used to say anyone can be a good Scout in fine weather!”
Why not get your patrol together one night to eat dinner in the Sukkah and then camp out in it?
Good Shabbos and Yom Tov,