“Death is very likely the single best invention of Life” said Steve Jobs during his 2005 Stanford Commencement address. I am not going to eulogize the recently deceased technical visionary. So many excellent celebrations of his life have been written. However, his quote is a segue linking him to the year’s most joyous Biblical festival which starts with sunset tonight.
Six months ago, the Passover Seder meal opened with our inviting real live hungry people to join us. However, before the Tabernacles meal in our sukkah tonight, we will invite seven dead people to join us. They are Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, and David. Sounds a little like Halloween dinner at Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion, doesn’t it?
Sukkot, which is set by an exquisitely precise lunar calendar, always occurs in the fall. That time of the year as the leaves fall and the days get colder and shorter, can feel quite lifeless. Hence Halloween’s frivolous mocking of death. But what links Sukkot and death?
Sukkot is commonly called the Festival of the Gathering, because of this verse:
Observe the Festival of Sukkot for seven days
when you have gathered in your grain and your wine
Yet it could also be known as the festival of dying. You see, in Hebrew, the word for ‘gather,’ ASaF, also means dying, as we see in these examples:
Isaac…died, and was gathered to his people…
When Jacob finished commanding his sons…(he)was gathered unto his people.
Die on the mountain where you go up, and be gathered to your people;
as Aaron your brother died in Mount Hor, and was gathered to his people.
As Thought Tool enthusiasts already know, Hebrew words which seem to mean two separate things or ideas are really closely related. Thus ‘Festival of the Gathering’ also means ‘Festival of Death’. But why would the most joyful Biblical holyday carry even a hint of death?
For a clue, we need to examine an incident late in the life of Moses.
The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Avenge the Children of Israel from the Midianites; afterwards shall you be gathered to your people. And Moses spoke to the people saying, ‘Arm yourselves for war and go against the Midianites…
A lesser man hearing that this would be his final mission might have dawdled in launching the war. He might have described the delay as necessary for adequate military preparation. But ancient Jewish wisdom observes that though Moses clearly knew that after this mission he would die, he nonetheless wasted no time in carrying it out.
This final opportunity for Moses to obey God carried a special quality which it wouldn’t have possessed if there would be countless future such opportunities. If great wine cost a dollar a bottle, it would soon lose its specialness. The value of any limitless commodity is zero. Without death, there can ultimately be no life. A life lived forever would be diminished and perhaps this is exactly what Steve Jobs meant in June 2005. The words he uttered resonate. This is why Sukkot, the holyday of joy, must contain within it some small elements of death.
It is vitally important not to allow yourself to become emotionally depressed by painful circumstances of loss or disappointment. Each of these carries a small whiff of death, whether of a dream or a reality. My audio CDs and books contain hundreds of insights and inspirations about dancing back from defeat and despair.
As a joyous holiday special before our store closes Wednesday night for Sukkot, the two Library Packs (see details) are available at a special price. These are regularly great buys; for this short period they are even more so. I honestly believe them to be life transforming resources which I encourage you to own and gift to others.
Just remember what I told you the last time I discussed Sukkot in the Thought Tool of September 22, 2010: Every pain possesses the promise of pleasure; poverty promises prosperity; sadness contains the seed of happiness. The distress of death presumes the joy of eternal life. Now go and draw energy from the Bible and ancient Jewish wisdom.