From Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur to Sukkot to Simchat Torah.
This is a remarkable period of time. And I think throughout all of it, the thing that most stands out to me is the beautiful sense of community and connection. I feel such a strong connection to Hashem, but also to my multiple communities… AISH and Community Shul, Chabad in West Hills, JMI Men’s Trip To Israel, and all of the friends I have made from these connections. It is so potent and powerful and life affirming, and gives me much nachas.
(Photo from Israel21c.org)
I had the immense pleasure of being invited to my friends the Lights, or the Light House, as I like to call it for the Yom Tov. The family is filled with light, and that light is used to welcome others to their table or Sukkah. The food, as always, was amazing. The drink and conversation flowed freely. And the warmth… the warmth of the sukkah in the cool night air was palpable. This is what it means to be Jewish. To be welcomed into another’s home for open conversation, civilized and passionate debate and prayer… the kind of prayer that expresses gratitude for all that we have, all that we are, all that we will eat, and all that we just ate… and gratitude and humility for and towards Hashem.
As we learned about the Sukkah, and what makes it “Kosher” or not, we talked in great detail about intention. Rabbi Avi Rabin at Chabad, and Rabbi Aryeh Markman, Rabbi Shlomo Seidenfeld, and Rabbi Dov Heller all made points of saying we need to find one thing, one mitzvah to add to our plate this year… how important it is to take just one step forward… and how to eliminate even one obstacle that is in the way of our goals and dreams and passions.It is all about Teshuvah, returning and not getting stuck. It’s easy, too easy, to get stuck and paralyzed while we wait for an answer. Clarity is what we all desire, but as Rabbi Shlomo says, we cannot wait for it. Sometimes we need to move without it, with the information we have on hand, and put our faith in Hashem. And as Rabbi Avi says: “Think good and it will be good.”
And yet, Sukkot reminds us that even as strong as our resolutions are, even as powerful as our hearts and minds now are and how they are so focused on change, ultimately, it is all up to Hashem, and everything we are, everything in the world is impermanent. Except, of course, and hopefully our souls.
Peter Himmelman is one of my most favorite singer/songwriters, and his music and lyrics have such a deep Judaic thinking beneath them. The song “Impermanent Things” captures this holiday so brilliantly. After all, “man makes plans and G-d laughs.” Well, not laughs, but we MUST realize it is only partially up to us… and the one thing we have control over, the only thing where G-d stays out, is whether or not we believe in Hashem… another lesson we learned in the Sukkah. Everything else is impermanent, and this is the lesson of the holiday.
This goes for the four species that make up the arba’at haminim, too. The “etrog (citron) fruit, aravah (willow) and hadas (myrtle) branches and lulav (palm fronds) — which combine to form the central symbol of the holiday.” (Israel21c.org) And after the holiday, those are gone as well.So what is the lesson of this most holy time, as we sit in the Sukkah? That we need to make choices and decisions, and commit to those promises and vows we made during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. We need to know that everything except our souls is impermanent. We need to make sure we are doing all we can and taking those steps forward, finding that one thing, that new mitzvah, and always practicing Teshuvah, Tzedakah, and Tefillah. And we need to embrace ourselves and be embraced by this beautiful, warm and loving community.
So go share a meal, a drink and conversation… shake the Lulav… and find yourself sitting in the Sukkah.