Love in the Sukkah by Repair the World

Many thanks to Repair the World for this lovely Sukkot discussion guide about the role of love in social justice.

On the annual harvest celebration of Sukkot, there is a tradition of inviting special guests, known as ushipizin, into the sukkah. The sukkah is a temporary hut with three walls and a roof where the stars can shine through, symbolizing the shelters the Israelites slept in when they wandered in the desert between slavery and the promised land. Through the ritual of ushpizin, Aramaic for guests, one “invites” the spirits of righteous people to join the community for the meal in the sukkah. This act, inspired by Abraham’s famous hospitality, is paired with the practice of opening the sukkah to those in need. There is even a saying that ushpizin will not bless a sukkah with their presence unless the poor are welcome as well.

Inviting guests into your dwelling, whether it be a sukkah, a tent, a house, or any other type of space, can be an act of love. Through the tradition of ushipizin, you opened up your home and your community to others. Welcoming those who are in need is an act of social justice. This Sukkot, let’s explore the connection between love and social justice. Through the following discussion, delve deeper into how we can approach love as a practice, directed at the neighbor, the stranger, and ourselves.


At the Shabbat Dinner Table
Go around the table and share either of the following people to symbolically welcome to the sukkah:
Someone in your life who has helped you grow into the person you are today
Someone, from history or the present, who has inspired you to see the world in new ways

Next, turn to the person sitting next to you and read one, two or all of the texts below to explore love and its role in social justice. Discuss the guiding questions and share any takeaways with the larger group.

Guiding Questions:

  • How do these texts address the connection between social justice and love?
  • Do you read these texts differently using bell hook’s definition of a love ethic?
  • What are the risks to incorporating love into how you approach social justice? What does love require of you in a relationship?
  • What does love for the neighbor and for ourselves require from us?
  • What does it mean to be commanded (rather than encouraged) to love by Jewish texts?


TEXT ONE: Leviticus 19:17-18
Leviticus is the third book of the Torah. Rashi, a medieval Jewish commentator, quotes Rabbi Akiva as saying that the commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself” is the fundamental principle in all of the Torah.

לֹא-תִשְׂנָא אֶת-אָחִיךָ בִּלְבָבֶךָ הוֹכֵחַ תּוֹכִיחַ אֶת-עֲמִיתֶךָ וְלֹא-תִשָּׂא עָלָיו חֵטְא. לֹא-תִקֹּם וְלֹא-תִטֹּר
אֶת-בְּנֵי עַמֶּךָ וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ אֲנִי ה’.

“Do not hate your fellow in your heart; surely rebuke your neighbor so you will not share in their guilt. Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people; love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord.”


TEXT TWO: “All About Love: NEW VISIONS,” bell hooks, p. 101
bell hooks is a black feminist theorist, poet, essayist, and social commentator who writes about race, class, and gender in modern US society. In “all about love: NEW VISIONS,” hooks defines love and explores its practice during different moments in life.

“To live our lives based on the principles of a love ethic (showing care, respect, knowledge, integrity, and the will to cooperate), we have to be courageous. Learning how to face our fears is one way we embrace love. Our fear may not go away, but it will not stand in the way. Those of us who have already chosen to embrace a love ethic, allowing it to govern and inform how we think and act, know that when we let our light shine, we draw to us and are drawn to other bearers of light. We are not alone.”


TEXT THREE: “Love in Action”: Representative John Lewis
On Jan. 27, 2017, Krista Tippett interviewed Congressman John Lewis on her podcast, “On Being” about how love informed his actions during the Civil Rights Movement and his work today.

“Well, I think in our culture, I think sometimes people are afraid to say “I love you.” But we’re afraid to say, especially in public life, many elected officials or worldly elected officials, are afraid to talk about love. Maybe people tend to think something is so emotional about it. Maybe it’s a sign of weakness. And we’re not supposed to cry. We’re supposed to be strong. But love is strong. Love is powerful.

“The movement created what I like to call a nonviolent revolution. It was love at its best. It’s one of the highest forms of love. That you beat me, you arrest me, you take me to jail, you almost kill me, but in spite of that, I’m going to still love you. I know Dr. King used to joke sometimes and say things like, “Just love the hell outta everybody. Just love ‘em.””

Notes & Citations:

Aramaic:  Semitic language commonly spoken by the Jewish community in Mesopotamia starting around the 6th Century BCE

All About Love: New Visions,” bell hooks, p. 101

On Being: “Love in Action”


Al Rosenberg (they/them) is the Chief Strategy Officer at OneTable. Al lives just north of Chicago, loves handmade candles and board games, is a board member emeritus at Mishkan, and hosts a monthly Rosh Chodesh Well Circle.

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