Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Big Wheel Turning By The Grace Of God ( Robert Hunter, Jerry Garcia, Bill Kreutzman- "The Wheel")

           Every year at this time my son and I get to bond while we assemble our Sukkah. As he grows older he is able to help in a more constructive manner than just sitting and talking. While we were putting the Sukkah together he shared with me something he learned in school. He exclaimed that one of the commandments associated with Sukkot is to be happy. He thought that this is a very difficult commandment to follow, at least compared to the other commandments associated with Sukkot, such a eating in the Sukkah and waving the Lulav and Etrog. He then asked a very poignant question. “Abba how can you be commanded to ‘be happy’ if you in mourning?” I asked him what he meant. He explained that since his Zeidy (my Grandfather) died at the end of August and the whole family has been sad since then, and we are still in the year of mourning, how can we be happy?” I stopped what I was doing and told him that I wonder the same thing. It is hard to be happy when you have suffered a loss. How do we do resolve the tension between how we feel due to a loss and the feeling associated with Chag Sukkot?
Among the most spiritually difficult and often perceived as harsh texts is the Sefer Kohelet the book of Ecclesiastes. We read it in its entirety once a year on Shabbat Chol HaMoed Sukkot, the Intermediate Sabbath of Sukkot. According to the tradition, Shlomo HaMelech, King Solomon, towards the end of his life, wrote this Megillah, this scroll. Tradition has this perspective because the language is not one of optimism but rather realism. This is a person who as “seen it all” – Ein Kol Chadash Tachat HaShemeshThere is nothing new under the sun! And yet there is a certain harsh realism and a certain sense of harsh optimism. The author provides us with a no holds barred sense of comfort. He does not coddle us. He does not baby us. Rather the author shoves our faces in this “reality” and gives us a perspective on how to deal with a world that is not as wonderful a place as we might have thought of in our youth, or even a few weeks ago. The question that so many of our sages have asked, is why is such a text, a text that does not offer such explicit hope, a text that does not offer explicit comfort, and is universally recognized as a “downer” of a text, why is such a text read on the holiday that is commonly regarded as Zman Simchateinuthe time of our joy?
            In Eretz Yisroel, the Autumn Harvest is complete. We unabashedly celebrate our joy on a physical level because of a successful harvest. We also unabashedly celebrate our joy for having been judged favorably by God, (Rosh HaShanah), having been the recipients of God’s mercy (Yom Kippur). On Sukkot we are commanded to Samachta b’Chagechacelebrate in your holiday. Yet this text seems to diminish our celebration. While the nature of the Sukkot holiday is to celebrate our unrestrained joy in receiving God’s blessing, we also know that very often it is human nature to forget God and celebrate our achievements and ourselves. Kohelet reminds us that, like the fragile nature of the Sukkah itself, not everything is as much in our control as we think. V’Zerach HaShemesh U’Vah HaShemeshthe sun rises and the sun sets- no matter what we do, no matter how much control we may perceive that we have, at the end of the day, we are ultimately powerless. God is the ultimate cause of all things. The sun rises and sets because of God, not mankind. Kohelet helps us maintain our perspective. Kohelet reminds us that we are not the center of the world. Kohelet reminds us that for all the physical pleasures we seek, for the all the material comforts we work hard to afford, such things are fleeting.
            So how can such a text offer us comfort? Well if we have the perspective of Kohelet, then we can understand how an elderly person, who has seen everything: man’s goodness, man’s evil, the joy of life and the futility of life, offers us comfort.  Kohelet reminds us that there is only the Here and Now. The harvest and Thanksgiving that is associated with Sukkot reminds us that there is only the Here and Now. Next planting, pruning and harvesting is not in our control so why bother? Rather we celebrate that we arrived at Now. We acknowledge our portion and celebrate it. Yes we may be spiritually scarred beaten and bruised.. Yes we might have suffered horrible losses, perhaps devastating types of losses. Be we are here, sitting in the Sukkah, shaking a Lulav and Etrog, and that must be acknowledged and perhaps worth celebrating. Being having arrived in the Now just might be reason enough to be a certain type of Happiness.
As we finished putting up our Sukkah, I finally figured out an answer for our son. Maybe the lesson of Sukkot and the commandment to be happy, “VeSamacha b’Chagecha”, is to remind ourselves to be happy with what we have, and not focus upon what we don’t have.  No we don’t have Zeidy, but he have wonderful memories of him and the laughter that results from the sweet memories of our son’s great grandfather.

Rav Yitz

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