My first High Holy Days as a Jewban were not what I hoped or even reasonably expected. However, to the credit of the old adage ‘everything happens for a reason’ I realize everything went as it should have. Every action and reaction, every word and moment of silence, every second brought a needed sense of clarity and purpose. I am not saying it was easy or that I can swiftly turn a positive into a negative, but I can see the reason for a series of unpleasant events. I am still not over it, in a very human way I am holding on to what transpired, but I can see that it is my choice to turn it into something better.
Sukkot weekend my favorite rabbi discussed, well, Sukkot. I have to admit that despite my very helpful intro class, I didn’t know a lot about this delicious and quirky holiday, but everything happens for a reason and this is why she popped up on my random google search. This Saturday she explained that during the High Holy Days we are meant to be in an aspirational frame of mind (seeking forgiveness, making amends, changing for the better, generally connecting with something more than yourself, more than the mundane), but Sukkot forces you back to reality like a sort of bridge between aspirational and practical. As a result Sukkot is sort of the grounding force following the high of the High Holy Days.
So I decided to read up a little more on this topic. It was surprisingly hard to find, but as per usual chabad.org had some bits for me to read. When asked why Sukkot follows the High Holy Days Rabbi Aron Moss explains, “We have all made resolutions to become better people for the new year. But have we really changed? … Often a sincere resolution is forgotten as quickly as it was made. The reason for this is compartmentalization… One part of us truly wants to improve and grow, while other parts of us are lazy and complacent… My soul has good intentions but my body comes in the way. The solution: enter a Sukkah. When we enter a Sukkah, we enter with our entire being — our body and our soul, our heart and our mind… The Sukkah experience is one of wholesomeness. And only when we bring our whole self into a holy space, our resolve from Yom Kippur can be translated into reality.” Expanding on the body vs. soul idea Rabbi Baruch Epstein writes on the importance of Sukkot for the body, calling Sukkot the body’s Yom Kippur, “Body and soul are an odd couple. Mutually exclusive agendas, no compromises, forced to endure each other… each competes to achieve oneness with G‑d in its way… Think about Yom Kippur. The soul loves it and the body naturally hates it. The soul gets to indulge in all its favorite activities, free from any burdens of the body… The poor body is dragged along… Yet somehow the body makes it through the day and often even finds it enjoyable… But though the body may have enjoyed this day, it gets a bit envious… “And that is where Sukkot comes in. In the sukkah, it’s primarily about the body. The mitzvah is to sit in the sukkah, eat in the sukkah, drink in the sukkah, hang out in the sukkah. Like the total immersion the soul experiences on Yom Kippur, the body is treated to its own style of all-encompassing surround-sound G‑dliness… Sukkot is what the soul gives the body after the body gave Yom Kippur to the soul.“
I think that’s a very intriguing concept, generally during the High Holy Days I can feel my soul going through a process. It is not always easy or pleasant, but I feel like in the struggle I find true meaning. I feel like this year the struggle was greater, the healing was deeper, and I was on the other end of forgiveness. Much like I believe Yom Kippur is a difficult process so that there is awareness and meaning in that which we claim we want to change, I believe apologies are empty if there is no awareness and change in behavior. So for once and in very un-Yom Kippur fashion I chose not to forgive. I decided to hold on to what happened as a sort of lesson for all parties involved, including myself. Change doesn’t come from continued behavior or from pretending everything is fine and nothing ever happened, change can only come from recognizing and understanding what needs to change and then actively working on it. This was my progression from Rosh Hashana to Sukkot, I moved from the aspirational to the practical. It was a difficult and painful process, hurtful words were said and I just didn’t know how to move past it. By Yom Kippur I felt broken and in my time of introspection I sought solace. Although I had been trying to put things back together, I couldn’t do so in the same way. I had all of the same pieces, but they didn’t fit together the way they once did. This day allowed me to see that, but it also allowed me to see I wanted to put effort into finding a new way for everything to fit. As a totally coincidental result I spent the days leading up to (and through some of) Sukkot working on the practical end of my journey towards change, and I was happy to know I wasn’t working on it alone.
There is something else I learned during Sukkot. I felt pretty inspired last Saturday, not only because I found extra meaning in the timing of my personal journey, but also because I learned so much in a few minutes. It’s always extra special when I feel particularly inspired Saturdays after Minyan, I always feel happy after services, but sometimes the d’rash inspires me. One of the more interesting and less self-involved lessons I took from the d’rash was the seemingly infamous clouds vs booths debate. Rabbi Eliezer taught that the booths referred to were clouds of glory, while Rabbi Akiva taught actual booths were constructed. This would inevitably lead to a debate on not only what “booth” really means, but also what it represents. Although I like the sukkah and I enjoy/will continue to enjoy my time sharing meals with my Jewish community therein, I really like the idea of these clouds of glory. Sure, actual physical booths would have served as actual physical protection from the elements, while still keeping a connection to nature since that is what the rules of construction require. However, and this may inevitably go back to my “everything happens for a reason” kick, it is so comforting to believe that G-d’s protection is like an imperceptible booth around you, protecting you as you go.
I’ve realized in my journey that the moments I feel most connected to G-d are those moments where I am at the right place at the right time, those moments where things happen that have larger meaning than it would seem, those moments where pivotal and serendipitous things are found in my path. My entire life feels like a series of those moments, I feel G-d in every second of my life because it all seems to fall into place. I see G-d in acts of kindness, I feel G-d in shul, but I feel G-d’s involvement in my own personal life in every one of those little moments. There are hard times, inevitably, seemingly senseless acts and times when I feel broken, but life just goes on and things seem to move forward and work out. I am no passive character in my own life, I try to work hard and give meaning to my life, but there are many moments greater than myself. I make choices everyday, but often the repercussions of those actions are unforeseen; the college I didn’t really choose led to my best friends, my in-between job turned into a career, my summer job led to a permanent job with incredible co-workers, my lackluster choice of law school and family law project led to my soulmate, my permanent job led to meeting new people who have breathed new life into my career, and so on. I can think back to every little choice and how it has led to magnificent things in my life, and it is those moments when I can’t deny the existence of G-d. It is those moments that make me feel G-d’s presence like a cloud enveloping me.
A very belated (or exceedingly early) shabbat shalom to you all.