There’s a Grey’s Anatomy episode in which the main character Meredith says something along the lines of, “when the world gets really terrible, I go down to the nursery and stare through the glass at the tiny new babies, just coming into the world.”
I thought about that yesterday afternoon as I watched our religious school students scurrying around working to decorate the sukkah. Peter Hindel and volunteers from Brotherhood spent most of their morning setting up the structure and at 5:45, near the end of the religious school day, every single class, 3rd through 7th grade, worked together to bring energy and color and foam fall leaves to the walls and ceiling of the sukkah. On a day like yesterday, in a month like last month, during a year like this year, the weight of the world can be hard to carry. And here were these 5th graders, sharing glue and passing pipe cleaners to each other all in the name of beautifying our congregation’s sukkah. It lifted my heart.
Sukkot is a time for rebuilding.
On Tisha b’Av we commemorate and mourn destruction – the destruction of the temples in Jerusalem, the destructions our people have endured throughout our history. We begin by recalling our lowest moment, and then, slowly, throughout the high holy day season, we reflect and renew and on Sukkot, we rebuild.
We build shelters from the storm, temporary respite from the swirling chaos around us. We are commanded to dwell in the sukkah, to eat and spend time with each other in the sukkah, even to spend a night or two in the sukkah. But we are not permitted to leave the sukkah up all year round. We build a structure with only three walls, and a “roof” intentionally likely to leak. Our sukkot give us a chance to catch our breath, to begin to recover, to gather strength, but they do not represent the end of the season – Sukkot leads us into Simchat Torah, in which we celebrate perhaps one of the strongest structures we have, Torah. In the shelter of our sukkot, we draw strength from one another, from the simple act of being with each other, so that on Simchat Torah we can take on Torah yet again, for another year, and continue to do the work of bringing Torah into our world.
Our country is reeling; from hurricane after hurricane and from the worst mass shooting in modern American history. Our community is reeling, from personal tragedy and perpetual fear.
Sukkot is a time to rebuild; to dwell in space and time and bask in each other’s light. Programs all week offer opportunities to do just that – join us for a congregational t’filah on Wednesday night with the religious school to welcome in the holiday, or on Thursday morning for Tot Sukkot or a Sukkot Festival Service. Come pray with us on Shabbat and stay after for dinner and jazz in the sukkah. The calendar is chock-full of ways to spend time in the sukkah.
And as you sit, or stand, and schmooze, take a moment at some point to notice the open fourth wall, the space between the branches that make up the temporary roof. Take a moment to think about those people in a different form of temporary housing in Houston and the Keys and those who have perhaps not yet found temporary shelter in Puerto Rico. Those in hospitals in Vegas and those preparing to bury their loved ones, for whom no shelter can protect them from whirling, overwhelming, consuming grief.
Sukkot simultaneously reminds us of a need for shelter and the temporary nature of that shelter.
Let our sukkot remind us to spend as much time as possible with the people we love, and to show them we love them.
Let our sukkot remind us to support those whose sukkot are not built by choice, but by necessity, and who may not yet have even that temporary shelter. Click here for opportunities to support communities affected by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma and Maria, with updated info on how to help those in Puerto Rico.
And let our Sukkot celebrations be times for gathering energy and strength to take on Torah and bring her and her teachings into this new year of 5778.