Lately, the world has felt like a dark and chaotic place. At night, you fall asleep to images of devastating hurricane damage, and in the morning you wake up to news of a mass murder at a country music concert. All of this with the constant drumbeat of corruption, lies and hard-heartedness coming from our nation’s capital.
It’s been hard to focus lately. It’s been hard to keep up with carpools, homework monitoring, and bedtime routines. In the middle of each of these everyday tasks, my attention keeps slipping away from the mundane jobs in front of me to the feelings of hopelessness and helplessness that keep rising up like storm clouds blocking out the sun.
Given this context, the holiday of Sukkot is resonating deeply with me this year. On Sukkot, we set up a temporary dwelling place out in nature. It needs to be solid enough to withstand the weather, but fragile enough to let in the light from the stars and the moon.
Ever since we first began the tradition of building a Sukkah in our yard, I’ve appreciated many aspects of this holiday. I enjoy the opportunity to be creative. As adults, we don’t often have the opportunity to bring to life something we dream up in our imagination that has no practical purpose. Our Sukkah fits all of the traditional qualifications, but it also expresses the whimsy and creativity of our family. I love it.
I enjoy the opportunity to be in nature. During the time it takes to build and decorate the Sukkah, I appreciate being outside. I drink in the crisp fall days, and look up through leafy branches at the bright blue sky. I savor the dinners eaten outside to the sounds of squirrels scampering up trees and the sight of the sunset illuminating the evening sky.
Most importantly, I enjoy the mandate to BE HAPPY. A nickname for Sukkot is “Z’man Simchateinu” or “The Time of Our Joy”. In order to truly fulfill the mitzvah of Sukkot, it’s not enough to merely construct a sukkah. You also have to decorate it, and you also have to invite guests. Some years, this feels like a lot of pressure. This year, it feels like the solution to a deep, deep yearning.
Our world feels increasingly confusing and frightening. Lives are cut short every day by things beyond our control– from a car slamming into a crowd of peaceful protestors to catastrophic storms whose effects are magnified by climate change to a madman with access to automated weapons. So many things are outside of our control.
This year, in the process of fulfilling the mitzvot of this holiday, I’m reminded of all the things that are WITHIN our control. I can create a beautiful, sacred space right in my own backyard. I can carve out the time to eat slow, relaxing meals with family and friends. I can nurture important relationships in the context of this time and space. I can give myself permission to BE HAPPY.
Last spring, I was deeply moved by the words of the sonnet written by Lin Manuel-Miranda in response to the shooting at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando. His words have been echoing in my mind this week:
My wife’s the reason anything gets done
She nudges me towards promise by degrees
She is a perfect symphony of one
Our son is her most beautiful reprise.
We chase the melodies that seem to find us
Until they’re finished songs and start to play
When senseless acts of tragedy remind us
That nothing here is promised, not one day.
This show is proof that history remembers
We lived through times when hate and fear seemed stronger;
We rise and fall and light from dying embers, remembrances that hope and love last longer
And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love cannot be killed or swept aside.
I sing Vanessa’s symphony, Eliza tells her story
Now fill the world with music, love and pride.
I’ve highlighted the lines that feel particularly meaningful at this time. First, on this Sukkot, I remember that nothing here is promised, not one day. Sukkot is a reminder to take time each day to create some happiness. Enjoy our beautiful, natural world. Revel in the gift of each other. Each day is precious, and the gifts of today might not be here tomorrow. The sukkah itself is a reminder that everything in our lives (both the joy and the tragedy) is temporary.
Second, on this Sukkot, I remember Lin Manuel’s encouragement to create beauty out of tragedy. Fill the world with music, love and pride. I can start by creating a beautiful space in my own backyard, and filling that space with twinkling lights, good food, laughter, friendship and love. Then, I can take all that love, and let it radiate it outward. I can let that love motivate me towards generous and loving acts that help repair our broken world.
Next week, when the holiday is over, we’ll pack up our twinkly little sukkah and store its component parts until next year. I’ll carry the empowering memories of intentionally creating a time and space for joy, light and love during these dark times. Then, I’ll roll up my sleeves and go back to the work of adding my voice and my efforts to fighting the intolerance, inequality and injustice that is so prevalent in our country right now.
This year, the holiday of Sukkot is giving me a welcome reprieve from feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. Wishing that by next year, the world is in a better place.
Wishing you all a joyous and peace-filled holiday.
PS Adding to our joy this year is the purchase of a trampoline. Look at those bouncy, happy children!!!