Photo courtesy of MyJewishLearning.com
Sukkot is tonight, and I'm not really feeling the approaching Zman Simchateinu (the season of our joy) all that much.
Between the coronavirus keeping us all more isolated and unable to host many people on the holiday to the presidential debate and this horrifying election cycle (just in time for Halloween- who needs artificial scariness?!?), I'm having a difficult time 'getting my joy on.'
I admit I'm still kinda stuck in Yom Kippur mode, although our holiday trajectory is shoving me along quickly to Sukkot.
And on Sukkot, the Torah tells us that Jews should feel NOTHING BUT JOY (v'hayita ach sameach- Devarim/Deuteronomy 16:15). Great! Now I'm feeling guilty and inadequate on top of horrified, bewildered and mildly depressed.
So, what to do? As is my practice, I turn to our texts, commentaries and teachers.
And one of my great teachers has been the poet Emily Dickenson:
Success is counted sweetest
By those who ne'er succeed.
To comprehend the nectar
Requires sorest need.
Not one of all the purple Host
Who took the Flag today
Can tell the definition
So clear of Victory
As he defeated-dying-
On whose forbidden ear
The distant strains of triumph
Burst agonized and clear!
I don't remember when I discovered this poem (high school? college?) and in the context of what sad state of affairs. But I remember it hitting me like a bolt of lightning.
In order to truly, deeply, acutely appreciate the good, one must experience some measure of loss:
To comprehend the nectar requires sorest need.
Sigh. Why is it that human beings have such a hard time appreciating what we have until we are in danger of losing it or have already lost what we desire?
The dialectical relationship between Yom Kippur and Sukkot- and coming so close together- teaches us that downs and ups are to be expected, even ritualized. But why?
Perhaps Rebbitzin Tzipporah Heller can help us take this idea to an even more profound level:
Our Sages tell us that the Egyptian exile is the prototype for all the exiles of Jewish history... The number four symbolizes this very real form of exile of the soul. It is the number that symbolizes the material realities that surround us, because the physical world is very much a place in which the number four reverberates. There are four directions (east, west, north, south), four seasons, (summer, winter, spring, fall) four basic compounds (fire, water, earth, air).
While the conflict between the material world and the spiritual one can lead to the soul entering a state of ever-deepening exile, it can have the opposite effect as well. Often times we must learn who we are not and who we would never want to be before we discover our true identity. This is, in fact, the beginning of redemption...
Thus, the repression of exile was part and parcel of the redemption! The second step is dependent upon the first one. The exile is as much a part of the process of redemption as the rescue is. This creates a paradox for some of us.
As Rebbitzen Heller noted so wisely, “the paradox is that the exile is as much a part of the process of redemption as the rescue is.” And this is a very deep and difficult teaching.
So as we take up and shake our arba'ah minim- our 4 species (the etrog, date palm, willow and myrtle) this Sukkot, we can recognize the exile of our souls, and that it can teach us who we are not and would never want to be. And that recognition is a part of the process of redemption and potential wholeness.
So this Sukkot, I will strive mightily to feel the joy of redemption, even for a brief 7-8 days, and let it fill me with enough hope (G!D willing) to carry me through these times.
May Sukkot energize us all to work to bring to fruition the vision of our prophets and sages:
And so we put our hope in You, A-do-nai our God,
to see your power revealed in its beauty,
erasing that which is wicked, that which is false.
To restore Creation under Your nurturing rule;
that all life be able to call upon You,
and even the evil will return to the light.
All who share this earth will see that
only to You need we be humble, only to You need we be loyal.
Then, A-do-nai our God, all will bow and bend before You,
acknowledging Your name as precious.
All humanity will join in the task You set,
and You will lead all humanity forever.
For You are the true Ruler, and will rule gloriously forever.
As the Torah teaches, "A-do-nai will rule for all eternity." (Exodus 15:18)
And it is said:
And Adonai shall be king over all the earth;
In that day, who A-do-nai is
and how A-do-nai is called
will be one.
[The Al Ken prayer following the Aleinu, freely translated by Rabbi Joshua Gutoff at http://opensiddur.org/fixed-prayers/aleinu/aleinu-by-joshua-gutoff/]