Life Lessons from my Sukkah

Example of a collapsed sukkah. Credit: Yonassan Gershom.

Example of a collapsed sukkah. Credit: Yonassan Gershom.

I didn’t know it at the time, but Friday evening would be our last time in our sukkah this Sukkot. Our sukkah was beautiful. We decorated it with branches from our trees and grasses from our yard, corn stalks from a farm, fruits, vegetables and string lights. As we brought our guests into the sukkah to welcome Shabbat, the wind was kicking up a bit. It even blew out the Shabbat candles after we lit them and said the blessing. Later in the evening the wind picked up even more and the rain began. I loosened the straps on the sides to permit the air to blow through, but that was not enough. In the morning I found the sukkah partially fallen, leaning against the house, metal support bars of the frame irreparably bent. Our sukkah had succumbed to nature’s force and collapsed.

What an amazing metaphor. I pondered how the sukkah was like my body. Yes, I was beautiful once too- well maybe not. But I pulled my hamstring the other day at the gym trying to exercise and maintain my health. I realized that things don’t work the way they used to. Given the preponderance of my rabbinate in the area of bereavement, it is only natural to ponder mortality. So I saw my sukkah as a representation of me.

I like to think I am still vibrant both mind and body, however as noted, different than when I was younger. And although parts of my body have broken before, they have always healed. The bent poles of my sukkah remind me that this may not always be so. But like the walls and roof of a sukkah, I wonder how much of the world do I let in? Do the walls I have built during my life still permit the outside to enter like the Ushpizin (guests) we welcome each evening of the Chag?  (Holiday, Feastival) Or perhaps have my openings shut, the walls and ceilings becoming thicker and less permeable, have I become less open to new experiences, learning and growth?

It is an important question as I do my work and live my life. For it is precisely these things that keep me progressing and figuring out how the new experiences, often with younger people, the unaffiliated or under-engaged Jews can be viewed using Jewish framework to give them context and meaning. This lies at the heart of developing wisdom and sharing it with others to create meaning, particularly when to do so is a challenge.

The wisdom of Ecclesiastes runs through my mind. There is nothing new under the sun. All that is and all that was has already happened. Pushing this biblical wisdom even further, wrapping it into Einstein’s theory of space and time, perhaps Ecclesiastes understood that the infinite God understood everything, even my own life and death, has already occurred. The end that will come in my linear three-dimensional world has been in the realm of the Eternal One. A frightening thought perhaps that could lead to the despairing claim that “All is but Vanity!” Drawing from my economics background, “in the long run it doesn’t matter.”

But we don’t live in the long run. We live in life’s moments. The day-by-day set of experiences that are our lives. My sukkah was destined to fall down perhaps and the Being of another dimension knew this to be (or maybe already to have been). But Naomi and I put up our sukkah, we invited guests in, and had wonderful times with our honored guests. We made meaning in the moments we had together and drew on another part of Solomon’s wisdom, to live each moment and infuse our lives with meaning, planning for tomorrow even if tomorrow is not a promise but only a hope.

Sukkot has given me the chance to be in the moment appreciating the fragility of life while also celebrating the gift of life. Tomorrow the metaphor continues as we enter Simchat Torah (rejoicing in the Law) and start the cycle all over again, although this time with the wisdom of another year’s worth of living.

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