These and Those

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

[PCJE Dvar Torah] Learning to rejoice in what we have

Posted on September 18, 2013 by Laura Marder

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523047_3320892264663_1912122470_nWhat if you always knew exactly how long you have something or someone to enjoy? You knew that these were the precious few days or years and then they/ it would be gone. Would that change your relationship or feelings towards them/it? Would you follow the wise words of Rav Tim McGraw and “live like you were dying?” Sometimes in our busy lives we don’t realize the preciousness of each day and the beauty and meaning behind our interactions and relationships. We take advantage that these things and people will be in our lives for an infinite amount of time. This feeling becomes jolting challenged when we experience loss or find out a date of which our lives will be without these things. Knowing the “expiration dates” and fragility impacts our appreciation for what we have in our life. Each day, each person, each experience, each place, etc in our lives are gifts, that at any moment could be lost from us. “Vanity of Vanities Hevel Hevelim” as Kohelet puts it. The Hebrew word “Hevel” also means a breath. Like the vapor you can see on a cold day that just disappears. Like Hevel, who was killed and wiped from this world by his brother Cain. Everything is impermanent.

Kohelet is read on the Shabbat of Sukkot. You may wonder, what is such a depressing Megillah doing on our Chag that we are commanded to be happy and enjoy!? Some explain that Kohelet is read during this time because of its talk of the cycles in the year and Sukkot is the harvest holiday. Others say that it was written in the “Autumn” of Kohelet’s life as he was nearing old age and death so Sukkot lines up with the idea of Autumn.

I feel that Kohelet is begging us to enjoy the moments we have and to not stress on the future because it is out of our hands and will all be wiped from the world eventually. Kohelet is saying there are these cycles, these things in our life must be enjoyed the moment we have them. Sukkot is seven days. We know that these beautiful Sukkahs that we erect are not going to be there for us to enjoy in forever. We have a deadline. We have those seven days to bask in the mitzvah and eat and drink with friends and family in these temporary huts. If we always had them standing next to our homes how many times would we bring our food out there or invite friends to come enjoy with us? Eventually they would lose their specialness because we would not feel the urgency to enjoy them. A Sukkah by definition needs to be temporary. The Mishna even says it can’t be higher than 20 cubits, to prevent it from being too permanent.

We are celebrating Sukkot right after the  Days of Awe: Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. Those ten days between Rosh Hashana to Yom Kippur are crammed with “I’m sorrys” and “I forgive yous”. Is it again this idea of a deadline that pushed us to recognize the importance of the people in our lives? By just spending this time reflecting on how to improve our lives and be inscribed in the Book of Life and then going into Sukkot, I see that G-d is setting up a structure for us to step into the new year with the understanding of how to have the year we prayed for.

Pedagogically it is really ingenious! This is a new year  “hook” or example on how to appreciate life. How to be in the “book of life”, and as Rabbi James put it, this means not just to be alive but full of LIFE. We are taught by Sukkot to work and create a place for our friends and family to enjoy and celebrate together. We are taught how to decorate and plan and really exert effort into something that we know will be taken down shortly after. We pick out the prettiest four species, even though they will wilt towards the end of Sukkot.

Their is such sadness in Kohellet’s voice as he realizes that none of his efforts have been for anything. That he has worked hard his whole life and now has nothing to show for it. He is realizing too late in life that these things in his life needed to be enjoyed while he had them. We learn that we will one day be without, so we need to value the time and the people at every moment.

יג  חַג הַסֻּכֹּת תַּעֲשֶׂה לְךָ, שִׁבְעַת יָמִים:16:13 Thou shalt keep the feast of tabernacles seven days,
-Devarim 16:13
ד  דּוֹר הֹלֵךְ וְדוֹר בָּא, וְהָאָרֶץ לְעוֹלָם עֹמָדֶת.1:4 One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh; and the earth abideth for ever.
-Kohelet

As we dwell, or as Rav Landes awesomely put it, “chill out” in our Sukkah and make the blessing over eating in the Sukkah. Look around you and appreciate it all. Appreciate the smiles, words of Torah, and love that surrounds you. The food that you bless. The decorations you made (or took from community lunch). Think about what it is in your life that you take for granted and think will always be there. What if you knew it was, like your Sukkah, only going to be there for seven days. What would you do to really enjoy and appreciate it?

כד  אֵין-טוֹב בָּאָדָם שֶׁיֹּאכַל וְשָׁתָה, וְהֶרְאָה אֶת-נַפְשׁוֹ טוֹב בַּעֲמָלוֹ; גַּם-זֹה רָאִיתִי אָנִי, כִּי מִיַּד הָאֱלֹהִים הִיא.2:24 There is nothing better for a man than that he should eat and drink, and make his soul enjoy pleasure for his labour. This also I saw, that it is from the hand of God.
-Kohelet

With this my blessing for us all this Sukkot is that we sit in our Sukkah or our friend’s Sukkah and “eat and drink and make your soul enjoy pleasure for your labors”. May we all learn to rejoice in what we have.

Chag Sameach!