September 29, 2023
This Shabbat, we also observe the first day of the festival of Sukkot, which is called “Zman Simchateinu,” time of our rejoicing. Just a few days ago, we emerged from Yom Kippur, having immersed ourselves in the paradox that our lives are so fleeting, we are so vulnerable, and we have the power to choose how we will live our lives.
On Sukkot, we are commanded to “dwell” in fragile huts that are also so beautiful; fragile huts designed to welcome in guests- both people who are alive today and our ancestors who are no longer with us, whose spirits we invoke as “ushpizin.”
More than any other Jewish holiday, Sukkot is so physical and tactile. We are commanded to take up the lulav, a cluster of four species which grow in the land of Israel – palm, myrtle, willow and etrog. We rejoice in the bounty of the fall harvest, as we recognize that this bounty is a blessing, that we are inextricably tied to the land and the cycles of seasons– dependent on them for our very lives.
There is an extra measure of joy when we celebrate the blessings of our lives – people, food, the beauty of nature and the full moon (which is always present at the beginning of Sukkot), understanding how precarious is our existence, how vulnerable we really are.
Rabbi Alan Lew, z”l (of blessed memory) writes of the joy of Sukkot:
“…Perhaps this special joy is precisely the joy of being…flush with life, the joy of having nothing between our skin and the wind and the starlight, nothing between us and the world. …now we sit flush with the world, in a ‘house’ that calls attention to the fact that it gives us no shelter. It is not really a house. It is the interrupted idea of a house, a parody of a house….In the sukkah, a house that is open to the world…the illusion of protection falls away, and suddenly we are flush with our life, feeling our life, following our life, doing its dance, one step after another.
And when we speak of joy here, we are not speaking of fun. Joy is a deep release of the soul, and it includes death and pain. Joy is any feeling fully felt, any experience we give our whole being to. We are conditioned to choose pleasure and to reject pain, but the truth is, any moment of our life fully inhabited, any feeling fully felt, any immersion in the full depth of life, can be the source of deep joy…”
Sukkot is a festival of connection; connection to nature, to our ancestors, to our people, to the holy wholeness of life, full of both joy and sorrow, powerlessness and the power of choice. When we embrace all of these connections, we can feel joy of the deepest and most authentic kind. May we have a Sukkot that more deeply connects us to each other and to the incredible, sacred paradox within which we dwell: Our lives are fleeting, we are vulnerable, and we can and must choose to embrace life and rejoice in its blessings.
Rabbi Audrey Marcus Berkman