Posts tagged " Sukkot "

What’s in a Name?

October 19th, 2016 Posted by Thought Tools 23 comments

In an act of unprecedented ostentatiousness, Gerald Guterman chartered the famous ocean liner, the QE2, along with its one thousand crew members to celebrate his son’s bar-mitzvah in 1986.

Our son’s bar-mitzvah was solemnized in a small synagogue built on the Los Angeles ocean front in the 1940s.  Guterman was trying to add meaning to his family celebration by means of an extraordinary location.  We were blessed to add meaning to a picturesque old house of worship by having it house our act of religious significance.


Outdoor Luxury – first posted Oct. 7, 2009

September 26th, 2010 Posted by Susan's Musings No Comment yet

Around the world, Jews are in the middle of celebrating the holyday of Sukkot, known in English as Tabernacles.

For one week, we move out of the house as much as possible and into Sukkot or temporary dwellings constructed exclusively for this holyday. Various specifications, such as a roof made solely of branches, mean that we are exposed to the elements while sitting in the Sukkah (singular). While in the land of Israel Sukkot comes at a lovely time of the year, in other parts of the world people sometimes find themselves sitting in parkas with gloves and hats sharing the Sukkah with bugs and drizzle. We spend as much time as possible in our outdoor domiciles, eating, entertaining and studying.

But, paradoxically, as we spend so much time in our Sukkah, this is not a “roughing it” experience. We wear our finest clothing, bring out our best cutlery and crystal, and cook our most scrumptious recipes.  Unlike a camping trip where our expectation is to endure a certain amount of discomfort, living in a Sukkah is in no way associated with deprivation.

Of all the year’s holydays, Sukkot is given the appellation, Z’man Simchateinu or “the time of our happiness.” While there are many spiritual injections that Sukkot provides, perhaps one of them is the message that happiness comes from within us rather than externally. When struggling with poverty or battling an illness, it is tempting to think that we would be happy if only that obstacle could be overcome. Some of us think the only impediment to happiness is 25 pounds of excess weight or a different spouse. I am not trying to minimize genuine, formidable challenges. But the human condition is such that happiness doesn’t correlate with the ease of our life. We all know of lottery winners whose riches led to despair, of Hollywood stars living miserable lives, and others whose good fortune is equaled by their wretchedness. Thousands born with the blessing of good health and beauty torment their bodies in ways that those who don’t possess those particular gifts are hard put to understand.

At the same time it is easy to find people whose circumstances should seemingly engender depression, but who greet each day and all those they meet with smiling faces. No one wants to deliberately impose poverty, ill health or sorrow inducing conditions in order to see how well any individual would face an ordeal. Without assembling such an experiment, Sukkot provides a reminder of how ephemeral security really is and how the safety we feel in our homes is actually an illusion. At the same time it reminds us that God is found in all places and that as long as we have His shelter, we are never abandoned and unprotected. That reality strips away any pretense that our happiness is dependent on “if only,” making this truly the happiest time of the year.


Glad to be Sad

September 21st, 2010 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

You know those days. You feel unstoppable and on top of the world, walking on air with sheer delight. A real king of the hill. Keep your balance!

And then the days when you’re dejected and all alone and your eyes fill with the hot tears of defeat and you feel that life isn’t worth living. Keep your balance!

Things are seldom as deliriously intoxicating as they might seem and they are never as hopeless and despairing as they often appear to be. Keep your balance.

This Wednesday night is the beginning of the Feast of Tabernacles; we call it Sukot, the plural of the word Sukah based on this verse:

In Sukot you shall live for seven days…so that your generations will knowthat in Sukot I sat the children of Israel when I took them out of the land of Egypt, I am the Lord your God.

(Leviticus 23:42-43)

This holyday is uniquely characterized as “the time of our joy” on account of the following verses:

…and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days.
 (Leviticus 23:40)

You shall make the holyday of Sukot for seven days…And you shall rejoice in your holyday…
 (Deuteronomy 16:13-14)

In another of those puzzling paradoxes we so frequently encounter in our Biblical studies and whose resolution inevitably leads to one more blinding truth about how the world REALLY works, we find death surrounding the holyday called “Time of our Joy.”  Death and joy?  Really?

Look at a few of these death allusions.  The holyday of Sukot occurs in the fall when the post-harvest fields are empty and the trees lose their leaves.  The days are getting shorter and cooler.  (Not coincidentally, this is when Halloween with its foolish emphasis on death and ghosts also occurs.)

The main rule about the Sukah is that its roof must comprise vegetation that once was alive but is now disconnected from the earth and dying.  The four tree species which we hold in our hands and bless each day of Sukot are green and beautiful but we watch them fade and wither.

During the Passover Seder we invite real living people who might be hungry to come and join our meal.  However, during Sukot, we invite dead people to join us.  On each night of the holyday we formally invite to our tables, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, and David.

The decidedly gloomy book of Ecclesiastes is read during the holyday of Sukot, with verses such as these:

Better is a name than good oil and the day of death is better than the day of birth.
It is better to go to a house of mourning than to a house of festivity…

 (Ecclesiastes 7:1-2)

You get the idea.  The seven day festival of Sukot is highlighted as the time of joy.  Indeed, in Israel today, a happy atmosphere pervades the air on Sukot, felt by religious and non-religious alike. Yet it unquestionably contains more than its fair share of deathly hints.

I suspect that you have already grasped what God is hinting at.  You see, if we all lived forever, we would never know the real happiness of living.  Without sorrow there can be no joy and without darkness, there can be no light.  Paradoxically, the holyday of happiness must refer to death.

The reverse is also true.  Every pain ultimately carries the promise of pleasure; poverty promises prosperity and sadness contains the seed of happiness. The distress of death presumes the joy of eternal life.

I truly know of no better way of gaining the perspective so necessary for coping with life’s ups and downs than the the Bible with all its nuances.  Delve into a new secret or another insight. Replace the perplexing predicaments of life with its permanent principles.