Toward Shabbat – Haazinu/Sukkot

As we move toward completion of the Torah this week we read in Haazinu that even Moshe did not reach the Promised Land. For it is not the GOAL that we must continually focus on, ignoring our surroundings and inner soul whispers along the way oblivious to the everchanging Holy Present that meets us and that brings anew serendipitous delight. It is the JOURNEY itself that is the goal, not some hoped for endpoint that defines us. If we just focus on the end point, we become so obsessed with it that we lose the everyday blessings that surround us. We also tend to judge ourselves harshly at our failure for not reaching the goal, and our inner turmoil leads to our perception of only darkness in the world. Then we lose our joy and joie de vivre. Remember, though Moshe did not cross over to the Promised Land, he did not complain or define himself as a failure, but remained faithful, accepting the inevitability of this reality, and could look back at his life as one who truly lived fully through every present moment. This was the last bit of wisdom that filled him at the end of his life.

Sukkot is coming! These are the days of joy and awe, received through the softness and fragility of life and the miracle of creation. We move from the ethereal heights of Yom Kippur to the earthy reality of Sukkot. Sukkot, the holiday where the fragrance of the Etrog, and the branches of the Sukkah, the dwelling under the sky in moist evening, all bring us closer to the Creator of nature. We invite our friends and guests into the Sukkah, rub shoulders with them, huddle close against the cool night air, eat hot noodle soup, kugel and carrots, invite in our ancestors virtually from ancient Jerusalem to continue the dialogue, the conversation of generations.

But will we also invite in people with whom we have strong disagreements politically and religiously, or would we only talk to those who are ‘like us.’ The practice of only speaking with those who agree with us can hardly be the mechanism that leads to true peace and harmony.

And unfortunately, this is a norm that is prevalent in our communities. We must challenge ourselves to invite into our Sukkah people with whom we have strong differences as well. Conflict can create an opportunity for us to gain insight into our neighbor’s point of view, create growth, and optimally develop new harmonious relationships with those whom we do not truly know and understand. Anyone come to mind?

How can we transform conversations that can be hostile into ones that lead to greater understanding of the other? Perhaps the heads of the household can act as examples of bestowing respect on those who have different positions, and make an effort to listen and understand the underlying feelings that influence the ‘other’s’ position. This will improve the relationship with your guest even if the different positions are not fully resolved. When one feels respected rather than disrespected, the humanity of the other emerges, is palpable and this is healing to each party. The defensiveness is attenuated and a spark of Shalom is ignited.

We are taught that a four walled Sukkah is not kosher; it must be three sided and have one side open to guests, strangers, and all who are needy to enter and join in our joy. Can we include the homeless on our streets to share in our moment of joy, and move us to work to ameliorate their condition by providing shelter and job opportunities in the future. A three walled Sukkah gives us an opportunity to look outward to our neighbors and those who may not have a place to eat. It gives us the opportunity, living in a flimsy temporary structure, to expose us to a small taste of the far worse condition that the homeless on our streets live with everyday.. The three walled Sukkah gives us perspective, opens the wounds of our insensitivity to the plight of our neighbors, who suffer daily in precarious huts of danger, illness and hunger. Thus, Sukkot charges us to work to make sure everyone has access to a secure place to rest and sleep, so that everyone will feel safe under the same stars that we all share on our planet, and discover the beauty of the star meant just for them! Let us commit ourselves to the path that will enable  poverty to be decreased and justice increased. Let us welcome all who are hungry with song and food (as our Prophets proclaim) and get to learn about their stories and unique journey in life. The terrible plight of homeless people who inhabit our streets tear at our hearts and may limit our joy, but our openness at this season may be the beginning of our working harder to create a better future for all who are currently struggling. The three walled Sukkah reminds us that our lives are not complete, and we must work to complete the fourth side, partnering with others to create a world of justice and respect for all human beings and living creatures on our earth. We must all be active ‘peacemakers’ as Aaron teaches us and as we recite in our prayer services every Friday evening as we ask G-d to spread over all of us the ‘Sukkah of Peace’, and the interconnected world of joy!

Sukkot is known as the holiday of PEACE and JOY! Thus, we must work to actualize and achieve this potential reality. The Sages give us several reasons why Sukkot is chosen for this noble aspiration. Firstly, we leave our homes and go out and live in a Sukkah, a structure that brings us into closer contact with NATURE and makes us all equal. The stars cover us, the birds and crickets sing to us, the grass and trees treat us to their pungent aromas Just as our ancestors dwelt in booths in the desert protected by the Clouds of Glory, increasing their faith, we too can imbibe from G-d’s ever-Present partnership in our lives. We have this sudden flash of insight that we may not need the beautiful solid structures that shut us out from nature and are often created through major time consuming, competitive, and enervating efforts such that we no longer have time to remember who we truly are as members of a unique nation charged to uplift our world through our gifted capacities. We may begin to realize that our true security resides not in physical structures, but through faith. We can be protected by G-d in a Sukkah just as well as in our beautiful homes. With faith, we can move through difficult challenges that appear beyond our control and not fall into cynicism, despair that blunts our action, but instead turn our anguish into concrete plans to heal our planet.

At Sukkot, we are brought into calendrical time, into a new space of memory, joining our souls to our ancestors who dreamed of a better world where the whole world could dwell under a Sukkah of Peace. Thus, we take each of the four different species and bind them together, symbolizing the possibility of accepting differences all under one central motif. We realize that indeed, these very differences are essential necessary ingredients to create the wholeness and peace that our world deserves. Let us be blessed in future years to invite both our friends and those who have not yet become our friends to our Sukkah and elated to discover their humanity along with the wonder of their ‘difference.’

Gazing at the stars from our Sukkah makes us all humbled with the beauty and majesty of our universe, and awakens us to the fact that each of us are equal under the heavens. Let us commit that this year we ensure that everyone will dwell under the Sukkah of peace, and each in our own small way will become ‘PEACEMAKERS,’ Sukkah builders, in our glorious, but incomplete world.

Have a sweet Shabbat and a Sukkot filled with joy and the sparks of Peace! Blessings and Love,

Rabbi Mel