[From Sukkot Worship at Temple Beth El, on Monday, October 11, 2012 - 15 Tishrei 5772]
Our pilgrimage festivals seem to follow a natural pattern:
Passover – celebrate freedom
Shavuot – celebrate the giving of Torah
Sukkot – if we were to complete the pattern, we should be celebrating the arrival in Israel, the completion of our journey.
Instead, we celebrate our vulnerability – we celebrate the sources of our sustenance – how the planet provides for us through harvest and shelter, and how fragile all of that is.
Seems strange, as the finale of a three-part series – freedom, wisdom, vulnerability – this is something of a let down.
Yet, this may be one of the central keys to Judaism.
When we arrive in the Promised Land, when we complete the journey, our history has just begun. We do not celebrate a final sense of redemption in this world. We are not a people who believe that our work will be, or has ever been, complete.
Instead, we choose, as the most celebratory of our three primary festivals, to take in the harvest, eat, drink, and be satisfied, for a moment, while still knowing that the seasons will yet change again, and there will be more work to be done.
We do not have a holy day that marks completion, instead we sit in our temporary structures on Sukkot, happy to have brought in a good harvest, and see how fragile it all is. We notice that our completion is momentary.
Sukkot sends us a fundamental message about the nature of life. As we have come through our seasons of inspiration, our celebration of the creation of the world on Rosh Hashanah, and our deep time of repentance on Yom Kippur, Sukkot gets us back to the everyday – our needs being met by the earth, and our need to reconnect with those physical needs. We live in the desert forever – we do not reach completion. We get through the desert with the blessing of the bounty of our harvest, when we are lucky to have enough, and through the blessings of our communities coming together to share that harvest and make sure we everyone shares in our bounty.
Fragility, vulnerability, life as wanderers – this is life. As Jews we recognize it and celebrate when we succeed at living with it, as well as the need to make sure we don’t ignore it.
May this year be one where we live well with our fragile world, and guard against the hazards it brings by coming together to bring each other blessings of sustenance.