If there's something in Judaism that is specifically for everyone, Sukkot would be it. All manner of people come together on Sukkot, serving as a reminder that it takes all kinds of people to build and maintain a thriving Jewish community.
Sukkot is for Everyone
Not everything is for everyone. In fact, virtually nothing is for everyone!
Which is why our ears perk up whenever the Torah tell us that something is for everyone.
This week’s Torah portion is one such occasion. Parsashat Haazinu is a sometimes-troubling, sometimes-inspiring poem about God’s presence in our lives, and it’s introduced by the final line of last week’s Torah portion: “And Moses spoke the words of this song, until their completion בְּאָזְנֵי כָּל-קְהַל יִשְׂרָאֵל, in the ears of the entire congregation of Israel” (Deut. 31:30).
This phrase--כָּל-קְהַל יִשְׂרָאֵל, the entire congregation of Israel—is rare in the Torah. It occurs only four times: Once in Exodus referring to the laws of Passover; once in Leviticus referring to the high priest’s atonement for the community; once in Numbers during Korach’s very public rebellion; and once here, in Deuteronomy. In each instance, the presence of every single member of the community is critical.
The Torah highlights these specific moments as those where everyone is included. And as the Torah nears its conclusion, with the people of Israel charged to carry on the instructions of Moses without him, we might ask ourselves what additional moments, experiences, or events are meant for every single person.
One item that definitely makes the list is the upcoming holiday of Sukkot. Called in traditional texts simply הֶחַג, “THE festival,” Sukkot was ancient Israel’s most important celebration. Individuals from all around the land of Israel would make a pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem, where they celebrated the harvest or mourned together for a lean year. The festivities included dancing and musical instruments and the burning not only of celebratory torches but also of the underclothes of the priests. (No, we don’t do that last one anymore.)
And of course, whether they were in the city, in the fields, or staying at home, our spiritual ancestors would dwell and dine in outdoor huts, the sukkot for which the festival is named. As rabbinic law took hold after the fall of the second Temple, the specifications for this holiday—like everything else in Judaism—started to pile up. Question after question is addressed about what constitutes a kosher sukkah, and though the answers might seem restrictive to us at first glance, in reality, they are comparatively lenient and broad. You can build sukkah walls out of nearly anything, even human beings (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 630:12), and they can sit upon nearly anything, including the top of a tree or even the back of a camel (Mishnah Sukkah 2:3). The overarching theme of the holiday is inclusion – everyone has a place at the sukkah-table.
This is the teaching of a midrash from a collection known as Leviticus Rabbah (30:12), which describes each of Sukkot’s ritual items as a symbol for a member of the community:
The etrog symbolizes Israel: just as the etrog has taste as well as fragrance, so Israel have among them people who possess learning and good deeds.
The palm branch also symbolizes Israel; as the palm-tree has taste but not fragrance, so Israel have among them people who possess learning but not good deeds.
The myrtle branch likewise symbolizes Israel; just as the myrtle has fragrance but no taste, so Israel have among them people who possess good deeds but not learning.
And the willow branch also symbolizes Israel; just as the willow has no taste and no fragrance, so Israel have among them people who possess neither learning nor good deeds.
So, there are those with good deeds and learning, those who have one or the other, and those who have neither. And the midrash concludes:
אמר הקב״ה יוּקְשְרוּ כולם אגודה אחת והן מְכַפְּרִין אלו על אלו.
God says: Let all of them be bound into a single bundle that they may atone for one another.
Or, literally, so that they may cover for one another.
In other words, our people can’t make it unless we all band together: the sages and saints along with the novices and the average folks. That’s why the patrons of Sukkot are Abraham and Sarah, whose tent was open on all sides and who would welcome and receive not only העוברים, those who passed by, but also השבים, literally “those who returned” or perhaps even “those who did teshuvah.” Abraham and Sarah’s home was open to all, even—and most especially—to those who might not otherwise be welcome, that is to say, the “willow-branches” among us who wouldn’t necessarily be at the top of most people’s guest list.
Our children learn in Hebrew School that Sukkot is a holiday of hospitality. And that’s correct. We teach our kids and remind ourselves of the ushpizin, the spiritual guests that are invited into the sukkah each year. Traditionally, these seven guests include Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, and David—one for each of the seven days of Sukkot—and modern practice extends the invitation to women as well—to Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, Leah, Miriam, Hannah, and Deborah, for example. But an urgent text from the Zohar, the primary text of Kabbalah and much of Jewish mysticism, insists that inviting only these august personages is indulgent, not hospitable. The Zohar teaches: 
If you sit in the sukkah and invite the ushpizin but do not give the vulnerable their portion, our ancestors will hold aloof from you. … Do not say, “I will first satisfy myself with food and drink, and only what is left over shall I give to the needy.” Rather, the first of everything must be for the needy. If you gladden these guests and satisfy them, God will rejoice over you, and the ushpizin will shower you with blessings.
In other words, our obligation to invite others into our home is met only when we first make room for the needy among us. In our own lives, the “needy” may fall into any number of categories, including those who are in spiritual, physical, or emotional need. Though the Days of Awe are behind us, Sukkot nevertheless calls us to account: who in our community is in need of companionship at this time? Who needs sustenance? Who needs support? And even if I wouldn’t ordinarily be inclined to reach out to these people, perhaps especially so, how can I extend a welcoming and inviting hand?
Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the president of the Reform Movement, summarizes our task: “Audacious hospitality isn’t just a temporary act of kindness so that people don’t feel left out; it’s an ongoing invitation to be part of a community where we can become all that God wants us to be.” In other words, we can’t be our full selves if we cordon ourselves off from those who make us uncomfortable. We can restrict our relationships to a subsection of the community who we are always happy to see, or we can accept the call of this week’s Torah portion to come together as כָּל-קְהַל יִשְׂרָאֵל, the entire congregation of Israel. It’s a rare but sacred task when we can truly come together as one.
Sukkot is one of the best gifts our tradition has to offer us, both in terms of pure joy as well as a reminder of our social responsibility. There’s a lot to accomplish – so we’re lucky the holiday lasts an entire week! The ultimate goal of the holiday can be summarized in the words we sang a few minutes ago, from the Hashkiveinu prayer: וּפְרוֹשׂ עָלֵינוּ סֻכַּת שְׁלוֹמֶךָ, “Spread over us the sukkah of your peace.”
This Sukkot, let us work to expand what we mean by “us.” Let us resolve to identify new guests in the coming year and to invite them to our table. And let us commit ourselves to the health and wellbeing of כָּל-קְהַל יִשְׂרָאֵל by opening our hearts to all who surround us, welcoming them into our own sukkah of peace.
 Ex. 12:6 (כֹּל קְהַל עֲדַת-יִשְֹרָאֵל), Lev. 16:17 (כָּל-קְהַל יִשְֹרָאֵל), and Num. 14:5 (כָּל-קְהַל עֲדַת בְּנֵי יִשְֹרָאֵל).
 Tehillim Rabbah 110:1: וכיצד עשה אברהם עשה לו פונדק ופתח לו פתחים לכל רוח והיה מקבל העוברים והשבים, “And how did Abraham behave? He made his tent and opened it to all the winds [directions] and would receive those who went and those who came back.” See also Bereshit Rabbah 48:9: אָמַר רַבִּי אַבָּהוּ אֹהֶל פְּלָן שֶׁל אָבִינוּ אַבְרָהָם מְפֻלָּשׁ הָיָה, “The tent of the Patriarch Abraham opened at both sides.”
 See Zohar Emor 103b-104a.
 “The Genesis of Our Future”: http://urj.org/about/union/leadership/rabbijacobs/?syspage=article&item_id=109240
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