All the world feels redolent with apples and honey at this time of year. I've taken our son apple-picking twice since Rosh Hashanah. We go to a local orchard, only a few minutes away from our house. I love the palpable abundance of apple trees laden with fruits. And there's nothing else quite like the spicy-sweet crunch of a honeycrisp apple, especially one we've just plucked from the tree.
And when I look out the window in the morning, or step outside into the sukkah, or walk around the playground, the trees are brilliant orange and yellow. When the sunlight filters through their leaves, the very air feels honey-colored: golden and bright. The hillsides are an autumnal kaleidoscope, shifting and changing as the jewels of the leaves tumble, catch the light, float through the air.
It's easy to wish, "if I could only capture this moment!" Right now, with the trees all rustling and brilliant, with the sukkah standing proud in the backyard, our son singing silly songs in the car on the way to preschool. But even as it's happening, it's changing. Already some of the trees have lost the leaves at the top of their highest branches. The end of one thing, the beginning of the next.
Today is the seventh day of Sukkot, also known as Hoshanna Rabbah. Rabbah means great; hoshanna means "please save us!" In many communities people gather today to recite hoshanot, prayers which beseech God to save the earth. In the immediate aftermath of the climate march, with the drumbeats of the need for change ringing in our ears, these prayers take on a different urgency.
This year of 5775 is a shmita year, a sabbatical year, during which Torah teaches we are not to harvest in the land of Israel but instead to let the earth rest and lie fallow. "By the time the next shmita year rolls around," one of my colleagues said to me recently, "it will be too late to turn the earth around." A sobering thought. Ana Adonai, hoshia na -- please, God; please save us! -- takes on new resonance.
Another Hoshanna Rabbah custom is circling the sanctuary seven times holding our lulavim, the bunches of branches with which we have beckoned blessings all week, and then beating the willow branches against the ground. The falling leaves represent the rain which is always so urgently needed in the Middle East.
We don't observe Hoshanna Rabbah in any formal way in my congregation. There will be no circumnambulations of the sanctuary, no beating of willow branches against the patio stones. But I will watch leaves fall from birch and oak and maple as the day unfolds. They drift and spiral to the ground, and they evoke the precipitation which I know will fall as the season deepens. Already our lawn is becoming obscured by their fading colors.
I know that it won't be too long before the lawn is obscured instead by fallen snow. And then it will be green again, and so will the trees. The end of one thing, the beginning of the next. I read recently that the leaves of our deciduous trees contain these astonishing pigments all the time, but when photosynthesis is happening, the chlorophyll obscures the reds and oranges and golds.
And then the trees gracefully let go of the need to keep producing food, trusting that their reserves will see them through what's coming, and for a gleaming fiery moment their hidden brilliance can shine.