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Friday, October 2, 2009

Welcoming Sukkot and Shabbat

Though this evening is Shabbat, it also marks the beginning of the festival of Sukkot. As one of the three pilgrimage festivals (along with Pesakh/Passover and Shavuot) it is one of the three times per year when our ancestors would make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. This pilgrimage was to give thanks to God for the fall harvest and to pray that the coming months would bring adequate rain for next year’s crops. The day after Sukkot ends, on the festival of Shemini Atzeret (which some view as the last day of Sukkot) the Jewish people around the world begin to insert the prayer for rain in our daily liturgy.

On Sukkot, it is also customary to read from the biblical book of Kohelet/Ecclesiastes during Sukkot. This biblical book begins with the well known “Futility, futility, all is futility…” The author (traditionally believed to be King Solomon, though it was written long after he died) paints a somewhat pessimistic and even cynical portrait of a life where nothing can be certain and nothing is permanent. The author questions the meaning of life and existence, constantly claiming that “there is nothing new under the sun.” Everything that happens has already happened, no matter what we do it ultimately makes no difference. The world simply continues on as it always has and we are only here for a fleeting moment. However, the text also reminds us that, indeed, there is a “time to every purpose under heaven.” Each moment does ultimately have a meaning and a purpose – even if we do not know just then, what it is.

The sukkah, or temporary dwelling place, which we are commanded in the Torah to build and dwell in for this festival, and which many Jews still build and at least eat in (though some sleeping the sukkah as well) representing the impermanence or our world and the need to rejoice in what we have in this moment. In many ways the Book of Kohelet/Ecclesiastes puts into words what the meaning of the sukkah.

Sukkot is traditionally called zman simchateinu/the time of our rejoicing. It was considered the holiday par excellence by our ancestors. On Sukkot the people would make their pilgrimage to Jerusalem and rejoice in all that they had in that moment, for they realized the uncertainty of the future. So they praised God in the moment, renewing the Covenant unconditionally and then waiting to see what the next moment would bring.

My torah/teaching that I would like to share with you Sukkot is a poem based on these concepts of Sukkot, combined with other images of Moses and the covenant with God. Let us remember the importance of this festival, which often plays ‘second fiddle’ to its immediate predecessors. Let us remember to celebrate what we have, give thanks to God for all that is and embrace the moment.


The Meaning of the Moment – a meditation for the Shabbat of Sukkot


I.

I stand here
In the sukkah
Surrounded
Four walls
That are not walls
A roof
Through which raindrops fall
Security
That is not real

As no security
Is truly
Secure
Certain
Reliable
Beyond shadow
of a doubt

Do not be
Deluded

Nothing
Is definite
But
Now

The sukkah
Is here
To teach
this


II.

Moses
Stood there
On the mountain
Wanting
Pleading
Longing
To know
God
To have
Security
But he did not
Could not

Seeing only
God’s back
God’s goodness
Moses knew what was
In that moment
He could not know
What would be
In the next

Moses could only see
God’s
Compassion
Grace
Mercy
Patience
Kindness

Moses
Needed to wait
To see what they would bring
Like us
Waiting
To see
To know
Hoping for clairvoyance
Settling for clarity
Of the present moment
That is all

It was good enough
For Moses
Why not
For us
Why do we
Need
Certainty
Security
Permanence
When none exists
When less
Was enough
The truth
For Moses

III.

Kohelet understood
Everything
Is nothing
Nothing
Is all we have
We have
What is now
Not before
Not after
Only present
Not future
Only now
Then no more

Futility
Why bother
Futility
Why be born
Futility
Why live
Futility
Why not

We know
He knew
Why

Not because
Of certainty
Not because
Of knowledge
Not because
Of our own importance

But simply
Because
We are

We are God’s presence
Here on earth
Finite representation
Of the infinite

Each moment
Each person
Has a purpose
I want to know
Mine
But
We cannot know
purpose
Until it becomes
present


Seeking to know more
We strive after wind
After unknowable knowledge

True
Futility
The essence
Of our struggle
pain
suffering
Seeking to know
That which we cannot

Kohelet knew that
Why can’t we


IV.

Do not strive
Struggle
Suffer
To know

Rather
Carve your own tablets
Create covenant
In this moment

The old covenant
Has been smashed
As it always is
As each moment ends

Write a new one
As a new moment begins

Your soul your being
Your tablet
The search for justice
Your pen
The divinehuman flow of compassion
Your ink
The love of humanity and the world
Your muse

Write a covenant
Between you and God
You and your people
You and the world

Know that it will not last
Any more than any thing
Does
Be prepared to write it
Overandoverandover again
As each moment passes into the past
And to celebrate
Each new writing
Each new fulfillment
Each new commitment
To God
To community
To self

For nothing is eternal
But God
Nothing is certain
But the power of compassion
Nothing is sure
But that the flow of mercy and love
Nothing is before us
But the present
And our relationship
With God

Perhaps for once
In this moment
Standing in the sukkah
Resting in Shabbat
Being where we are
We can
Simply
Know it
Experience it
Celebrate it
For what it is
Not what it is not
Or what it will be

This is the time
The moment
of our rejoicing
Do not let it pass

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