On chol hamo’ed – the intermediary days of – Sukkot, I do what all Israelis do: go out to nature. Bear Mountain is less than an hour away with trees in unbelievable fall colors, beautiful lakes and stunning views of the Hudson River. With the aid of a couple of “trail angels”, I manage to find the route I was planning for, including a section of the famous Appalachian Trail, a lake and a steep climb back up to Bear Mountain Tower. I run into other MOT’s (“Members Of the Tribe”) all along the way: One calls me her “savior” as she follows me after being stuck in some bushes off the trail; some are in white shirts and black pants, long skirts, dark socks and head covering, and speak only Yiddish, but came prepared with a rope for the slippery rocks. I wonder if they recognize me as I recognize them. By the time I get back to my car, the parking lot is quite full; so much so that a couple of guys stop each other to ask, “nu, when is mincha?”…
Sukkot: The Holiday of Temporary Housing
Sukkot is holiday when we move out of our comfort to celebrate our temporary housing as a permanent one, while realizing our permanent “stuff” is only temporary. It’s a reminder of how everything is all “backwards”: we live our day to day life with the illusion that nothing changes; that for sure, tomorrow, we’ll have the same looks, health, wealth, thought power, job and friends, when in reality, they all change all the time, and the only constant is – change itself. Tomorrow, as did today, doesn’t guarantee us the same anything, but somehow, we behave as if it does.
My own stuff, packed earlier this summer, and I have been separated for almost 4 months. Living the last few months mostly out of my suitcase has been thought provoking to say the least. More than the “stuff”, there is a longing for it which keeps one busy; and there is the wondering about how much stuff we actually need in life; and the doubt: what have I packed there?? and the planning: oh, when it comes…
Of course, it all has to arrive “davka” during this festival of temporary housing! When it comes, I’m excited, like meeting an old friend. There is an old movie ticket in my pocket, my kids’ art, old letters, my books and piano, all here, and even a little dust from Oakland. But in a way, it also makes the move a little more finite, a little further away, a little more isolated. Fall is all around, emphasizing Sukkot’s message all the more so.
On Shmini Atzeret, the last extra day of Sukkot, coming this Sunday evening, we’ll start praying for rain. Although initially intended to be about rain in the Land of Israel, much has been written about the ecological meaning of this day, our impact on our climate, the need for clean water, and the wish for timely, blessed rains, which is all good and meaningful, but also, a little bit, bothered me. Because if that’s what it’s all about, why not extend it to say the words of “mashiv haru’ach umorid hagashem” – the one who bring wind and brings down rain – all year long? If we impact the world through our words and prayer, and half the planet now begins summer, does this explanation really make sense? is it enough??
I’d like to add an insight into the Hebrew of this saying. If we look at it carefully, it some of it should be familiar: here is the same root we’ve heard about sine before Rosh Hashana: mashiv, being back, just like teshuva; and ru’ach? True, it’s wind, but it is also the word for soul, spirit (as in spirituality). And what about geshem, the word for rain? That shares its root with gashmiyut, reality and hitgashmut, fulfillment. So maybe we can read it to say something like , please, return our soul, our spirit, and reign on us fulfillment, and may that sustain us through the dark months ahead.
Shabbat Shalom & Mo’adim Lesimcha.