October 2, 2015
Jews are now amidst an 8-day celebration of the holiday of Sukkot. Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin writes, “Sukkot is the quintessential holiday of journey. It is the holiday that best symbolizes where most of us are most of the time: somewhere in between midway, sometimes moving, sometimes stuck, always heading-we hope-in the right direction. The word Sukkot means “shelters,” a comforting image as we focus on the vulnerability and the insecurity that accompany travel.”
Several of the annual Jewish celebrations have a book from the Bible associated with them. It is not surprising that the Book of Ecclesiastes, reflective of humankind’s ultimate vulnerability and insecurity, is read on Sukkot. The most well known verses of this book (immortalized in the music of the 60’s rock group, “The Byrds”) are found in chapter three:
A Season is set for everything, a time for every experience under heaven:
A time to be born and a time to die
A time to plant and a time to uproot
A time for slaying and a time for healing
A time for tearing down and a time for building up
A time for weeping and a time for laughing
A time for wailing and a time for dancing
A time for throwing stones and a time for gathering them
A time for embracing and a time for shunning embraces
A time for seeking and a time for losing
A time for keeping and a time for discarding
A time for tearing and a time for sewing
A time for silence and a time for speaking
A time for loving and a time for hating
A time for war and a time for peace
These words are commonly quoted to provide comfort in times of crisis. In fact, the author was not expressing hope or comfort, but frustration with life, itself. The author, who is referred to as “Kohelet,” is telling his reader that regardless of what we do or say there will always be war and peace, hatred accompanying love, times of killing followed by moments of healing. The frustration of knowing that bad things happen regardless of our best efforts makes life seem a waste of time! Kohelet is one very confused person. In truth, Kohelet is you and I.
We all question our existence. What purpose do I serve? How can my life be meaningful when nothing I do appears to make a difference? This is the essence of the celebration of Sukkot. The holiday, combined with the reading of Ecclesiastes, compels us to take stock of ourselves, to ask the difficult questions and to realize there is only one answer: Choose life!
Because things happen regardless of best efforts doesn’t mean we give up. Quite the opposite. Life presents us with a daily challenge to love as much as we can, to embrace life with zest and zeal, and to cherish peace as long as possible. Nothing-including ourselves-lasts forever. Therefore, we celebrate the happiness of this season and enjoy “forever” now!
“Moadim L’Simha”- May we all find happiness, health, and peace in the days ahead.
Rabbi Howard Siegel