As we welcome Shabbat Bereshit, our first Shabbat of 5777 I wanted to share Shlomi Shabat’s beautiful song, At the Beginning of the World- Bereshit Olam. A love song to the Shabbat Bride and for my wife. Shabbat Shalom.
I didn’t know it at the time, but Friday evening would be our last time in our sukkah this Sukkot. Our sukkah was beautiful. We decorated with branches from our trees and grasses in our yard, corn stalks from a farm, fruits, vegetables and string lights. We brought our guests into the Sukkah to welcome Shabbat, the wind was kicking up, it even blew out the Shabbat Candles after we lit them and said the blessing. Later in the evening, the wind picked up even more and the rain began. I loosened the straps on the sides to let the air to blow through, but that was not enough. In the morning I found the sukkah partially fallen, leaning against the house, metal support bars of the frame irreparably bent. Our sukkah succumbed to nature’s force and had collapsed.
What an amazing metaphor. I pondered how the sukkah was like my body. Yes, I was beautiful once too- well maybe not. But I pulled my hamstring the other day at the gym trying to exercise and maintain my health. I realized that things don’t work the way they used to. Given also that a focus of my rabbinate is in the area of bereavement, it is only natural to ponder mortality. I saw my sukkah as a representation of me.
I like to think I am still vibrant both mind and body, however as noted, different from when I was younger. And although parts of my body have broken before, they have always healed. The bent poles of my sukkah remind me that this may not always be so. But like the walls and roof of a sukkah, I wonder how much of the world do I let in? Do the walls I have built during my life still permit the outside to enter like the Ushpizin we welcome each evening of The Chag (holiday)? Or perhaps have my openings shut, the walls and ceilings becoming thicker and less permeable, have I become less open to new experiences, learning, and growth?
It is an important question as I do my work and live my life. For it is precisely these things that keep me progressing and figuring out how the new experiences, with younger people, the unaffiliated or under-engaged Jews can be viewed using Jewish meaning to give them context and meaning. This lies at the heart of developing wisdom and sharing it with others to create meaning particularly when to do so is a challenge.
The wisdom of Ecclesiastes runs through my mind. There is nothing new under the sun. All that is and all that was has already happened. Pushing this biblical wisdom even further wrapping it into Einstein’s theory of space and time, perhaps Ecclesiastes understood that the infinite God understood that everything, even my own life and death, has already occurred. The end that will come in my linear three-dimensional world has been in the realm of the Eternal One. A frightening thought perhaps that could lead to the despairing claim that “All is but Vanity!” Drawing from my economics background, “in the long run it doesn’t matter.”
But we don’t live in the long run. We live in life’s moments. The day-by-day set of experiences that are our lives. My sukkah was destined to fall down perhaps and the Being of another dimension knew this to be (or maybe already to have been). But Naomi and I put up our sukkah, we invited guests inside and had wonderful times with our honored guests. We made meaning in the moments we had together and drew on another part of Solomon’s wisdom, to live each moment and infuse our lives with meaning, planning for tomorrow even if tomorrow is not a promise but only a hope.
Sukkot has given me the chance to be in the moment appreciating the fragility of life while also celebrating the gift of life. Tomorrow the metaphor continues as we enter Simchat Torah and start the cycle all over again, although this time with the wisdom of another year’s worth of living.
We Jews have been scrambling a bit. Yom Kippur just ended and last night was the start of Sukkot. We only had a few days to build the Sukkah. In addition to being busy, it is a fascinating time of year. The High Holidays are an intense period of introspection. As we commit to making this New Year a meaningful one, learning from the lessons both good and bad of the past year, we keep in mind the fragility of life. Like Yom Kippur, Sukkot continues to remind us that life is precious, it is a gift and we do our best when we live each day to its fullest. One way we do that is to sit in our Sukkah, that meager shelter with the partly open roof and only three sides.
We dwell there and invite others to join us. But this invitation is more than Jewish hospitality for we invite not only friends and family but also the spirits of those who came before us, those who embodied the highest Jewish Values. These people include our Forebears, patriarchs and matriarchs of Judaism and perhaps of our own families. Abraham and my Zeyde, Sarah and my Bubbe, and the list goes on. Each soul is an exemplar of a particular virtue such as compassion, wisdom, and courage.
These welcome guests represent the best of us. When we remember them and invite them to dwell in our Sukkah with us they come alive as a presence. We embrace them and realize indeed Zichronam Livrachah, their memories are truly both a blessing and an inspiration for us.
They enlighten us, inspire us, they connect us to the enduring nature of our people and the values that make being Jewish something so very special. May we embrace more than their presence, but may we embody the best of who they were so that we may become more than we are.
A prayer for our friends and families in the path of Hurricane Matthew
My thoughts turn to the Hashkivenu prayer, said as part of the evening (Ma’ariv) service asking for God’s protection during the night at a time when we are so vulnerable. I hope that it provides some comfort.
הַשְׁכִּיבֵנוּ יְיָ אֱלֹהֵינוּ לְשָׁלוֹם וְהַעֲמִידֵנוּ מַלְכֵּנוּ לְחַיִּים. וּפְרוֹשׂ עָלֵינוּ סֻכַּת שְׁלוֹמֶךָ וְתַקְּנֵנוּ בְּעֵצָה טוֹבָה מִלְּפָנֶיךָ וְהוֹשִׁיעֵנוּ לְמַעַן שְׁמֶךָ וְהָגֵן בַּעֲדֵנוּ. וְהָסֵר מֵעָלֵינוּ אוֹיֵב דֶּבֶר וְחֶרֶב וְרָעָב וְיָגוֹן וְהָסֵר שָׂטָן מִלְּפָנֵינוּ וּמֵאַחֲרֵינוּ וּבְצֵל כְּנָפֶיךָ תַּסְתִּירֵנוּ כִּי אֵל שׁוֹמְרֵנוּ וּלְשָׁלוֹם מֵעַתָּה וְעַד עוֹלָם. בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ הַפּוֹרֵשׂ סֻכַּת שָׁלוֹם עָלֵינוּ וְעַל כָּל עַמּוֹ יִשְׂרָאֵל וְעַל יְרוּשָׁלָיִם.
Hashkiveinu, Adonai Eloheinu, l’shalom, v’haamideinu shomreinu l’chayim, ufros aleinu sukat sh’lomecha, v’takneinu b’eitzah tovah milfanecha, v’hoshi-einu l’maan sh’mecha. V’hagein baadeinu, v’haseir mei-aleinu oyeiv, dever, v’chere, v’raav, v’yagon, v’harcheik mimenu avon vafesha. Uv’tzeil k’nafecha tastireinu, ki El shomreinu umatzileinu atah, ki El chanun v’rachum atah. Ushmor tzeiteinu uvo-einu l’chayim ul’shalom, mei-atah v’ad olam. Baruch atah, Adonai, haporeis sukat shalom aleinu v’al kol amo Yisrael v’al Yerushalayim.
Grant that we may lie down in peace, Eternal God, and awaken us to life. Shelter us with Your tent of peace and guide us with Your good counsel. Shield us from hatred, plague, and destruction. Keep us from warm famine and anguish. Help us to deny our inclination to evil. God of peace, may we always feel protected because You are our Guardian and Helper. Give us refuge in the shadow of Your wings. Guard our going forth and our coming in and bless us with life and peace. Blessed are You, Eternal God, whose shelter of peace is spread over us, over all Your people Israel, and over Jerusalem.