It’s been so intense – the month of Elul, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur – all that spiritual work, all that physical effort (and the beginning of the school year thrown in the middle!). It’s understandable if that old McDonald’s jingle keeps ringing in our ears “You deserve a break today”!
But, as Rabbi Weinberg used to teach us, there is no break for Jews from learning and growing. What we can do is change the channel. (Which is not the same as TIVO-ing it)
We can learn something different. We can change the focus of our learning. We can grow and stretch in another way, with a new area of concentration.
The holiday of Sukkot, coming immediately on the heels of Yom Kippur, provides us with this opportunity.
It is a holiday like no other – not only is it called the time of our joy (not its most distinguishing feature since all holidays are meant to be joyful, although here it is the essence) but we leave our homes and move outside into a makeshift hut. We cover the walls with simple decorations that our children and grandchildren made and school and we all “live” outside for a week – taking all of our meals there, learning and studying there, and, depending on weather and safety, sleeping there (Here in LA, we had the coolest summer on record since 1919 – until just before Rosh Hashanah where the temperature jumped to the nineties and seems to be staying there – the Almighty is definitely teaching us something but I haven’t figured out exactly what!)
Sukkot is changing the channel. It focuses us on the vast difference between our basic needs (what we use in our Sukkah) and our wants (the tchotchkes, furniture, jewelry etc. etc. left behind in our house). It is the culmination of the Rosh Hashanah experience of crown the Almighty King when we allow ourselves to live solely under His protection for a week. (Yes, we are always solely under His protection but on Sukkot we make it more real and obvious.)
And the holiday of Sukkot pushes us to live just outside our comfort zone – without the walls and locks and sense of stability provided by the material world that usually consoles us. On the High Holidays we make decisions about growth and change. It isn’t easy to stick to them – even with the best laid plans.
Life gets in the way. Our body pulls us down. We revert to old patterns.
Sukkot helps prevent that by lifting us completely out of our world of illusion, our false comfort.
“Come outside,” the Almighty says, “where you can’t distract yourself with your iPad, busy yourself in your kitchen (okay, there’s still plenty of that for Sukkot), hold on to the arms of your couches or chairs for stability. Leave your comfort zone so that you can embrace our relationship, so that you can welcome change.”
We are creatures of comfort. We have to push ourselves to move beyond our physical needs and desires. It isn’t easy. The pull of inertia is very strong.
So the Almighty gives us a boost. “Move outdoors with me. Come sit under the wings of my Presence and experience My clouds of glory. It’s time to let go of your attachments to the material world.”
Not forever. Just for one week.
And let the joy of that experience carry you through the year.