These and Those

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

TGI (almost) Cheshvan

Posted on September 28, 2013 by Sam Stern

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From my blog:

We dance, we kiss, we schmooze, we carry on, we go home happy.  What do you say?  Come on.

920506_10152870514840287_222669646_oThe holiday of Sukkot is sometimes referred to as the Festival of In-gathering.  In the agricultural world, this time period marks the completion of the harvest and the beginning of the planting/rainy season.  Sukkot is also referred to as the season of our rejoicing.  The end of the harvest cycle is a time for celebration but this holiday also starts a mere 4 days after Yom Kippur.  We spent 25 hours afflicting our souls and made it out alive.  What better time than this to celebrate?

The following line appears in the Torah reading of the 8th day of Sukkot:

שבעת ימים תחג ליהוה אלהיך במקום אשר יבחר יהוה כי יברכך יהוה אלהיך בכל תבואתך ובכל מעשה ידיך והיית אך שמח

Seven days you will celebrate to Hashem, your God, in the place that He will choose, because Hashem, your God, will bless you in all of your produce and in all of the work of your hands and you will only be happy.

The Torah commands that you only experience joy during this festival.  There have been lengthy discussions held by everyone as to how this is possible.  Human emotions are a complicated thing that we generally don’t have much control over.  How can we maintain this level of happiness for a whole week?

I’ve been thinking about this for awhile.  This commandment reminds me of the big red button that says, in all caps, “do not push.”  The second you see this button, the only thing you want to do is push it and see what happens.  It’s human nature- when you’re told to do one thing, you’re inclined to do the opposite.  So why would God command us to feel a certain way?

Sukkot is a time for us to get back in touch with the basics.  We live in temporary booths for the week where we do all of our sleeping, eating, and “hanging out.”  It’s so easy for us to connect with the natural world and feel God’s presence.  The Torah was quite brilliant to declare such a holiday happen right after Yom Kippur and the Days of Awe.  We’ve been given a clean slate and can now start over.  Like infants, we begin from nothing.  The commandment to be happy (in my personal, non-rabbinic opinion) has a deeper meaning.  Sadness/anger may start to develop as it’s generally impossible to escape.  Instead of wallowing in these emotions (like we normally do) we should take this time to let the negative feelings pass and actively concentrate on the happier times.  By sitting in the Sukkah, we realize just how tiny our lives can be and how huge Hashem’s presence is.  Like the infant that relies on its parents for everything, so too do we rely on God’s kindness and giving nature.

This became quite apparent during Simchat Torah.  It’s no secret that this is one of my favorite holidays.  My calves are still fairly mad at me and like to send constant reminders of their anger every time I go up and down the stairs.  In any case, things felt different this year.  I’ve dedicated 10 months to studying Torah- the same Torah I was holding during the Hakafot.  There was a moment when I blocked out the singing and dancing around me and thought about what it was that I was holding.  Hashem gave this to me to learn from and to develop into an “adult” from the “infant” that I am.  It connects the Jewish people, not just to each other, but to the world around us.  I could feel my heart glowing.  Or maybe that was just my locked up neshama trying to get out.  Ha…

It was great to finally get things back to “normal”- full of Kabbalat Shabbat and the whole shebang.  I was invited to Shabbos dinner by one of the families from Yedidya.  The night was incredible.  There was another couple there (math and science geeks!) with their newborn daughter.  Dinner conversation was full of exhilirating topics and deep questions.  After everyone else left, we ended up standing in the kitchen until midnight talking the night away.  I felt such a sense of being home.  They’re truly an incredible family.

I’m happy to see the month of Tishrei come to an end.  The chaggim were beyond amazing, but I’m incredibly excited to jump into the meat and potatoes of my classes.  This month was such a whirlwind of emotions but now it’s time to settle down and jump into Torah all day erryday.