15 Tishrei 5781
October 2, 2020
These are tough times for everyone. Only a few days ago, we recited “who shall live and who shall die. This year we really feel our vulnerability to those awful propositions: “Who shall live and who shall die.´ “Who by fire” in the west, “who by storm and water” in our south and who by pandemic in all 50 states.
At a time of Covid-19, this liturgy asks us to examine our lives, just as often can cause depression, anxiety for the future and uncertainty for our future.
Where then is Sukkot so problematic? We began with Rosh HaShanah, defined in our liturgy as a “Day of Remembrance” and then Yom Kippur labeled as a “Day of Judgement.” But Sukkot is called “z’man simchateinu,” a “Day of Joy.”
To be honest, how joyful do we all feel right now, hunkering down at home, afraid – or at least cautious – about doing anything in a public setting? Other than joyful gratitude for survival in a pandemic, we are still apprehensive about the future. We have lost already 200,000 American lives and over 1 million lives worldwide.
Why should we be so joyful now, virtually locked out of the Temple for Sukkot? How can we regain peace of mind or emotional equilibrium when too many of our fellow citizens refuse to agree to the minimal disciplines of masking, social distancing and washing our hands just to avoid losing our lives in projected next 200,000 by January 1st? We all feel this need for delivery from our loneliness and the rigor of medically directed separation from others. How does Sukkot follow with any promise of relief? How can we focus on the “now” and find moments of “joy” and positive peace of mind in Sukkot?
In short, when one is unhappy, even depressed – how can we lift up our spirits and relieve our apprehension about tomorrow and the days to come? Is there a path away from the uncertainty about the future and find our way back to optimism and confidence?
My own personal suggestion is to find renewed enthusiasm for life in creating “little” moments such as a collection of cards and emails and expressions of gratitude we receive for what we have done for others. An additional definition includes “pride” for our children and for others, what they have achieved.
Creating a collection of these materials was a suggestion from a colleague decades ago. As suggested, there will be days when you will be challenged for your decisions and choices, anxious and depressed perhaps. At that moment, take out your collection and review the notes and letters you received describing the impact you had in other lives. It will not take very long. You will be uplifted.
I promise you that when you open it up, read and smile recalling the moment, the people, and the memories involved, you will remember that you are worthwhile; you are meaningful in the lives of friends and family.
How then does this relate to Sukkot? I was able to watch some of our Brotherhood members erect the Temple’s sukkah in our courtyard. Over the years, our students helped decorate the sukkah, and we collectively remember them and how those creations uplifted us. In recent years, we even had guests come to our Sukkah to eat their lunch or dinner! Not this year!
Our annual purchases of lulav and etrog sets led to holding on to one of the etrogim, drying it and using it as the spice box for Havdalah for many weeks to follow. As such, Sukkot is a living, breathing collection of all of our joys and happiness in moments recalled of the past. These memories remind you to not forget that you have been productive, a positive force in the lives of congregants, community and family. Above all, you are grateful for the kindness of others who took the time and effort to express their gratitude to you. And Sukkot is a natural, annual collection of wonderful memories. One can sit in the Sukkah as a moment of balancing the past as an antidote for worry about the future. It is a physical reminder of the joys.
This year we may be at home. Find joy in Sukkot this year as the beginning of your collection of memories. We can really say: Chag Sameach and next year in your own Sukkah. (Special thanks to Rabbi Barry Dov Lerner whose words inspired this week’s greetings)