No sooner has the shofar sounded at the end of Yom Kippur N’ilah; one tradition bids us to hammer a nail into the first beam of what will be the sukkah. At this time of writing (and recovery) from Yom Kippur and preparing for Sukkot, I am mindful of the intensity of our Jewish holiday regimen, as well as its variety of moods. The existential imperatives of the High Holidays bidding us to deeply consider the choices before us in life gives way to the quiet joyousness of the feast of tabernacles; all of which culminates in boisterous celebration that is Simchat Torah. I have come in recent years to think less of the intensity of the moods these holiday shifts impose and more about their gestalt, how they create balance; dark mystery of existence versus natural light of creation; hopeful anticipation versus a gentle fatalism (read the poetry of Ecclesiastes i.e. Kohelet “all is vanity”). We cannot have one without the other.
One tradition suggests that, in addition to hosting family and friends, we invite specific Jewish historical figures as Ushpizim (guests) to enter the sukkah with us: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph and David. More recently, a novel invitation has gone out to Jewish historical women:Sarah, Rachel, Rebecca, Leah, Miriam, Abigail, and Esther. To add and extend this tradition, one exercise asks whom would you invite from history and why? Einstein? Picasso? Amelia Earhart? Such a personal review would possibly serve as a Rorschach to your soul and mind, a mirror into your heart as to where your interests now lie. No doubt I would invite Sigmund Freud. Quite possibly he would say “Rabbi, sometimes a mezuzah is just a mezuzah” disabusing me of my overwrought tendency to look for explanations when there is none. Or just maybe I would like to stand in the presence of Hannah Senesch, that brave paratrooper who returned to Hungary to save her fellow Jews; be awed by her spirit of devotion and her poetic achievements. Most notably among these and others would be Darwin whose revolutionary spirit and intellect paved a new way for beholding nature’s gifts;
“There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”
So whom would you welcome into your sukkah?
It occurs to me that the gift of being Jewish is that of entertaining ambiguities such as I have hinted at above. For this reason and others our reform faith more than tends to be non-dogmatic. So I hope you enjoy these last days of the holiday month of Tishrei. For the month that follows Cheshvan is called Mar Cheshvan “Bitter Cheshvan!” as it is bereft of holidays save Shabbat and the New Moon. There is a beautiful custom among traditionalist to take a bit of wine from the Havdalah cup and paste it to one’s eyebrows. This symbolizes the commitment to take the sweetness of the Sabbath into our week, its joys, its hope, and its future anticipation for the time of ultimate peace and brotherhood.
May the beauty of the holidays that were continue into the months to come!
Rabbi Yossi J. Liebowitz D.D.