Sukkot and Self-Care: A Tranquili-Tea Workshop

Credit: Original image available here; Pixabay License, Free for commercial use, No attribution required

  • What does self-care mean to you? When do you find that you most need to take a step back and treat yourself - physically and emotionally?
  • In your experience, what is the emotional progression of the High Holidays season - from Tisha b'Av, to Rosh HaShana, to Yom Kippur, and finally, to Sukkot? How is one's body engaged in celebrating or observing the different holidays?
  • (Why) do you think that at the end of this progression, Sukkot arrives as the holiday of joy, and one which provides a significant opportunity to treat/reward oneself emotionally and physically?

אַ֡ךְ בַּחֲמִשָּׁה֩ עָשָׂ֨ר י֜וֹם לַחֹ֣דֶשׁ הַשְּׁבִיעִ֗י בְּאָסְפְּכֶם֙ אֶת־תְּבוּאַ֣ת הָאָ֔רֶץ תָּחֹ֥גּוּ אֶת־חַג־ה' שִׁבְעַ֣ת יָמִ֑ים בַּיּ֤וֹם הָֽרִאשׁוֹן֙ שַׁבָּת֔וֹן וּבַיּ֥וֹם הַשְּׁמִינִ֖י שַׁבָּתֽוֹן׃ וּלְקַחְתֶּ֨ם לָכֶ֜ם בַּיּ֣וֹם הָרִאשׁ֗וֹן פְּרִ֨י עֵ֤ץ הָדָר֙ כַּפֹּ֣ת תְּמָרִ֔ים וַעֲנַ֥ף עֵץ־עָבֹ֖ת וְעַרְבֵי־נָ֑חַל וּשְׂמַחְתֶּ֗ם לִפְנֵ֛י ה' אֱלֹקֵיכֶ֖ם שִׁבְעַ֥ת יָמִֽים׃ וְחַגֹּתֶ֤ם אֹתוֹ֙ חַ֣ג לַֽה' שִׁבְעַ֥ת יָמִ֖ים בַּשָּׁנָ֑ה חֻקַּ֤ת עוֹלָם֙ לְדֹרֹ֣תֵיכֶ֔ם בַּחֹ֥דֶשׁ הַשְּׁבִיעִ֖י תָּחֹ֥גּוּ אֹתֽוֹ׃ בַּסֻּכֹּ֥ת תֵּשְׁב֖וּ שִׁבְעַ֣ת יָמִ֑ים כָּל־הָֽאֶזְרָח֙ בְּיִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל יֵשְׁב֖וּ בַּסֻּכֹּֽת׃ לְמַעַן֮ יֵדְע֣וּ דֹרֹֽתֵיכֶם֒ כִּ֣י בַסֻּכּ֗וֹת הוֹשַׁ֙בְתִּי֙ אֶת־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל בְּהוֹצִיאִ֥י אוֹתָ֖ם מֵאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרָ֑יִם אֲנִ֖י ה' אֱלֹקֵיכֶֽם׃

Mark, on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the yield of your land, you shall observe the festival of the LORD [to last] seven days: a complete rest on the first day, and a complete rest on the eighth day. On the first day you shall take for yourselves the product of hadar trees, branches of palm trees, boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God seven days. You shall observe it as a festival of the LORD for seven days in the year; you shall observe it in the seventh month as a law for all time, throughout the ages. You shall live in booths seven days; all citizens in Israel shall live in booths, in order that future generations may know that I made the Israelite people live in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I the LORD your God.

  • In verse 30 (the bolded section), what is commanded to the people of Israel?
  • The sentence would have read perfectly fine without the words, "for yourselves." What do you make of these extra words?
תניא ר' אליעזר אומר כשם שאין אדם יוצא ידי חובתו ביום טוב הראשון של חג בלולבו של חבירו דכתיב (ויקרא כג, מ) ולקחתם לכם ביום הראשון פרי עץ הדר כפות תמרים משלכם כך אין אדם יוצא ידי חובתו בסוכתו של חבירו דכתיב חג הסוכות תעשה לך שבעת ימים משלך
It is taught in another baraita that Rabbi Eliezer says: Just as a person does not fulfill his obligation on the first day of the Festival with the lulav of another, as it is written: “And you shall take for yourselves on the first day the fruit of a beautiful tree, branches of a date palm” (Leviticus 23:40), and the Sages derive from the phrase: Shall take for yourselves, that it must be taken from your own and not from that of someone else, so too, a person does not fulfill his obligation with the sukka of another, as it is written: “You shall prepare for yourself the festival of Sukkot for seven days” (Deuteronomy 16:13), and the Sages derive from the term “for yourself” that it must be taken from your own.

The above text clarifies that "for yourselves" means that one needs to own their own lulav on the first day of the holiday, rather than borrow it (and certainly not steal it!)

  • Why do you think the lulav must be your own, and not someone else's? Do we always own our own tallit, or challah on Shabbat, or Menorah on Chanukah?
  • What benefits/costs do you feel there would be to using your own lulav?
  • How, if at all, might this requirement connect to the last commandment that one be "joyous" on Sukkot? In what ways do you think having your own lulav increase or decrease joy?

ואימא כופרא אמר אביי (משלי ג, יז) דרכיה דרכי נועם וכל נתיבותיה שלום כתיב

And say the verse [about the lulav] is referring to the branch [as opposed to the trunk] of the date palm [kufra] that has not yet hardened completely and could still be bound, albeit with difficulty. Abaye said that it is written in praise of the Torah: “Its way are ways of pleasantness and all its paths are peace” (Proverbs 3:17). At that stage of development, some of the leaves are thorns that potentially wound. The Torah would not command to use that type of branch in fulfilling the mitzva.

Dena Weiss, The Holiday of our Joy

Sukkot is a manifestation of the kind of joy and pleasure that should always permeate our relationship with Torah. Torah should be something that we want to experience fully, that we want to hold. The mitzvot associated with Sukkot should provide us with a template of how to maximize our positive associations with the Torah, and to acknowledge the mutually supportive relationship between aesthetic and moral beauty.

We've learned that the lulav must be one's own, that there is a focus on the individual for this very mitzvah, and that there is a hint that it has some impact on one's holiday cheer.

But why the lulav in particular? Based on what you've learned in the past and/or your own hypothesis, what do you think the four species listed symbolize? No ideas are off the table!

רַבִּי מָנֵי פָּתַח (תהלים לה, י): כָּל עַצְמֹתַי תֹּאמַרְנָה ה' מִי כָמוֹךָ, לֹא נֶאֱמַר פָּסוּק זֶה אֶלָּא בִּשְׁבִיל לוּלָב, הַשִּׁדְרָה שֶׁל לוּלָב דּוֹמָה לַשִּׁדְרָה שֶׁל אָדָם, וְהַהֲדַס דּוֹמֶה לָעַיִן, וַעֲרָבָה דּוֹמָה לַפֶּה, וְהָאֶתְרוֹג דּוֹמֶה לַלֵּב, אָמַר דָּוִד אֵין בְּכָל הָאֵיבָרִים גָּדוֹל מֵאֵלּוּ, שֶׁהֵן שְׁקוּלִין כְּנֶגֶד כָּל הַגּוּף, הֱוֵי: כָּל עַצְמוֹתַי תֹּאמַרְנָה.
Rabbi Mani opened, "'All of my bones shall say, "Lord, who is like you"' (Psalms 35:10). This verse was only stated for the sake of the lulav (the four species). The spine of the palm branch is similar to the spine of man. And the myrtle is similar to the eye. And the willow is similar to the mouth. And the etrog (citron), is similar to the heart. David said, 'In all of the limbs, there are no greater ones than these, as they are compared to the entire body.' This is [what is meant] by 'All of my bones shall say.'"
  • How does this text understand the symbolism of the four species?
  • What message do you think the author of this text is sending by suggesting this interpretation? Why, of all times of the year and of all ritual items, would he connect the verse from Psalms to the lulav and Sukkot?
  • How do you express praise and gratitude with different elements of your body? Do you find this harder to do when you are feeling weak, physically or even metaphorically, for example - when you can't "see" straight, or find the strength to "walk" upright, or "stand" in allyship, or to fully use your voice?

Tranquili-Tea Workshop

Supplies:

Spices (see below)

Mug (1 per person)

Small glass jars for the tea blends (1-3 per person)

If feeling strong and healthy in our bodies is a critical component of joy, then our tradition suggests we need to be careful and mindful of when we are neglecting our bodies.

There is a commandment that the Four Species need to be held together in one bunch, and if they are not all together, then one does not fulfill the mitzvah. This suggests that each part of our bodies needs its attention to express full joy and gratitude.

And furthermore, one doesn't just lift up the lulav - which we can now say is symbolically lifting up ourselves - but one does naanuim - one shakes the lulav in all 6 directions. This shaking is actually considered to be a victory dance of sorts. Imagine that! By taking, lifting, and shaking the lulav, we are dancing with a united body and soul.

There are many ways to take care of our bodies - and minds - and one way we can integrate the themes of Sukkot - like water and the autumnal harvest - and into self-care is through the ancient art of making and sipping herbal teas.

There are a number of easy-to-follow instructions online for making tea blends. Here are a few examples:

From eatingwell.com, "Make Your Own Herbal Tea Blends"

1. Peppermint Herbal Tea

  • Peppermint
  • Fennel
  • Coriander
  • Steeping Instructions: For dried herbs, use 1 teaspoon peppermint, ½ teaspoon fennel seeds and ½ teaspoon coriander seeds per cup of tea. (If using fresh herbs, triple the quantities.) Steep for 15 minutes. Strain as needed.

    Health Benefits: A perfect blend to sip on after meals, this healthy digestion tea can help soothe your stomach and may reduce irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms. Peppermint tea can also help boost your memory.

2. Energizing Lemon Herbal Tea

  • Lemon verbena
  • Lemon thyme
  • Lemongrass
  • Steeping Instructions: For dried herbs, use 1 teaspoon lemon verbena, ½ teaspoon lemon thyme and ½ teaspoon lemongrass per cup of tea. (If using fresh herbs, triple the quantities.) Steep for 15 minutes. Strain as needed.
  • Health Benefits: A great way to add some extra energy into your morning routine, this tea is composed of three different types of lemon-scented herbs. With extra vitamin C and a healthy dose of antioxidants, this tea blend can awaken your senses.

3. Soothing Lavender Chamomile Herbal Tea

  • Chamomile
  • Lavender
  • Mint
  • Steeping Instructions: For dried herbs, use 1 teaspoon chamomile, ½ teaspoon lavender and ½ teaspoon mint per cup of tea. (If using fresh herbs, triple the quantities.) Steep for 15 minutes. Strain as needed.
  • Health Benefits: Sip this soothing tea before bed: the lavender scent alone may lower stress levels and aid in relaxation. Mint is a wonderful stomach soother that can help digestion. Chamomile is good for soothing your stomach, reducing anxiety and improving your sleep.

From thespruceeats.com

4. Tummy Tea: A Stomach-Soothing Mint Blend

  • 1 cup dried mint
  • 1/4 cup fennel seeds
  • (optional) 1/8 cup finely chopped dried ginger
  • Mint is famed for its ability to soothe many a stomach ailment. In fact, along with fennel, ginger and other stomach-supporters, it's one of my highest recommended herbs for digestion.

5. Lavender Mint Tea Blend

  • 1/2 cup dried mint leaves
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons dried lavender blossoms

6. Lemon Mint

  • 1/2 cup dried mint
  • 1/2 cup dried lemon balm
  • 1/2 cup dried lemongrass

7. Deeply Cooling Herbs

  • 1/2 cup dried mint
  • 1/2 cup dried sage leaf
  • Great for colds, sore throats, and fevers. Steep for longer than most brews--10 to 20 minutes is ideal.

And a black tea, but no less delicious is Masala Chai:

  • 5–7 cardamon pods
  • 3–4 whole cloves
  • 1–2 star anise ( optional )
  • 5–7 peppercorns ( optional)
  • 1 cup water
  • 2–3 slices ginger ( skins ok)
  • ½ cinnamon stick, split lengthwise ( use your fingers to separate)
  • 2 tablespoons black tea, loose leaf ( or 1–2 tea bags) Or sub decaf black tea
  • 1 cup milk of your choice- almond, oat, soy, cashew, hemp, macadamia, or organic whole milk ( I like unsweetened, vanilla-flavored almond or oat milk)
  • 2–3 teaspoons ( or more or less) maple syrup, honey, sugar or alternative. (Sugar is traditional, but I prefer maple. )

Lightly crush cardamon, cloves, star anise and peppercorns, and place in a small pot with 1 cup of water. Add ginger, cinnamon and black tea. I like to muddle the ginger a bit.

Bring to a boil. Turn off heat and let seep 10 minutes…. or for several hours. The longer, the more flavor.

Add milk. Bring to a simmer once more, turn off heat.

Sweeten, taste, strain into a glass.