Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Sukkot 5772: The Whole Shack Shimmies!

Given that Sukkot is generally acknowledged to be the most joyous holiday of the year, and the only holiday (midrashically speaking, at least) that will continue to be celebrated in the Messianic age, it is curious that this festival centers around dwelling in a shack.  We aim to eat, socialize, and perhaps even sleep in the sukkah, little more than a frame with tree branches on top.  If we are truly meant to rejoice on this festival, then shouldn’t we be able to dine in style in a more comfortable location with no bees, no rotting, decorative produce, and at least a wee bit of protection from the rain?

Perhaps the message is that we need an annual reminder not to get too comfortable where we are, because no matter how successful or integrated with the wider culture, the Jews never spend too long anywhere.  Life was good in Jerusalem until the Babylonian destruction in 586 BCE; Iraq was a haven for our people until the 10th century CE; the Golden Age for Spanish Jewry flourished for a couple of centuries, concluding with the Inquisition in 1492.  The Holocaust virtually ended Jewish life in Eastern Europe, where the Jews had lived for at least six centuries.  And here we are in America, 357 years after the first Jewish arrivals, Dutch Sephardic merchants.  The arc of Jewish history suggests that we should continue to ask ourselves, how much more time do we have?

The time of our greatest celebration is marked by the reminder that we are also always on a spiritual, if not a physical journey.  Sukkot commemorates the back end of the Exodus, the part that takes place after the revelation at Sinai; the message is, “Have Torah, will travel.”  Enjoying a festive meal in our own shacks should take us back to that place and time, but should also help us with the internal movement that Jewish life engenders.  Let that spiritual change permeate your soul during Sukkot, just as the rain falls through the sekhakh.

Hag sameah!

(Originally published in the Temple Israel Voice, September 27, 2011.)

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