These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

Sukkot D’var Torah

Posted on October 22, 2011 by Derek Kwait

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Originally posted on Yinzer in Yerushalayim for Sukkot (6 days ago):

My Mishna teacher had our class over for a party in the sukkah last night. I gave the d’var and thought I would share a slightly modified version of it with you:

I remember last year, a member of my synagogue remarked that whereas the other two Chagim, Passover and Shavuot, commemorate events, namely the Exodus and Revelation respectively, Sukkot commemorates a process. Unfortunately, I don’t remember exactly what he said that process was, so this d’var will be my idea of what it could be. In its simplest form, of course, it must be the process of leaving Egypt to come home to Israel, the process of becoming a nation. While this sounds abstract, I think this is actually a process we are all familiar with, as people but especially as Pardes students. Everyone who has grown up has left the comfort and certainty of home for discomfort and anxiety with the hope of a better, freer, more mature, and more enlightened life awaiting us at the other end of the difficulties. Like Rabbi Jay Kelman of Torah in Motion in Toronto points out, while we are commanded in the Torah to “remember” the Exodus during Pesach, we are commanded to “know” that through Sukkot God redeemed the Jewish people when He took them out of Egypt. We may or may not have ever personally experienced something miraculous in our lives, but everyone (well, almost everyone) has grown up. During Pesach and Sukkot, God’s Presence and goodness were patently obvious. In the wilderness, it wasn’t, and when it was, it wasn’t always in a good way.

But there is a problem with this in terms of Sukkot. As we, or at least I, know from experience, the process of growing up and maturing was hardly what I would call my season of joy. So the question now becomes: What does reenacting growing up by living in a crappy hut and dancing with expensive produce in a prescribed ritual fashion have to do with joy?

I think the answer is the dancing with the expensive produce in a prescribed ritual fashion. The sukkah may remind us that we are on the way, but taking the 4 species of the final destination, Israel, in our hands reminds us that it is in our power to get there, eventually. To ritually shake a lulav while living in a sukkah is to affirm our and our ancestors’ belief that we will get there, that we need not go on this journey alone, nor were left to wander aimlessly through life but that we can go with God and find a purpose and higher end to our struggling, that, like Coldplay said, “Just because I’m losing, doesn’t mean I’m lost.” Sukkot is joyous then because it reminds us that even in anxious times, even in the process of going from where we are to where we want to be, to where we know we should be, God is there, helping us and guiding us, if we’ll just make the space for Him.

The placement of Sukkot on the calendar magnifies this lesson. To borrow the idea of one of my all-time favorite books, the late Rabbi Alan Lew’s This is Real and You are Completely Unprepared, on Tisha B’Av our supposedly-secure stone walls collapsed. From then we spent over a month crying and pleading and begging forgiveness for whatever we must have done to deserve this—we were terrible, we sinned in every way imaginable, this is all our faults, just please God don’t abandon us!—then on Sukkot, God, with two and part-of-a-third walls that the mystics say represents an arm stretched out in a hug, embraces us and tells us He loves us by taking us under a much more humble, yet somehow much more secure, structure than the one we had before and telling us that if we go out into His world with—as Chief Rabbi Dr. Sir Lord Jonathan Sacks says— our doors open to guests, our eyes open to the stars, and our hearts open to His Presence, He will come in to our world and make everything alright. Eventually.

חג שמח