We’re in the middle of my favorite holiday, Sukkot. Our tradition calls it Zman Simchateinu, the season of our joy. We always manage to get our sukkah up in time…it’s getting it down before Hanukkah that’s the challenge. When the kids were little, what we really loved was sleeping in the sukkah.
When you’re little, camping in the backyard is an amazing blend of strange and familiar. There are strange sounds and sensations, things you don’t notice from the living room. At the same time, the safety of the four walls of the house are just a few feet away. And, more importantly, the snoring lump in the sleeping bag next to you provides the reassuring reminder that your parent is within arm’s reach.
The Sukkah–and the whole holiday of Sukkot–represents this balance of safety and fragility. As humans, no matter what age, we crave security. Young children may use blankies and stuffies as their transitional objects, but we, as adults, have things that make us feel safe too. Whether it’s our retirement fund, the safety features on our cars, or the high-tech devices. Our communities hire guards and build walls, literal and metaphorical, to keep out any external threats.
At the same time, we know that there’s a limit to how perfectly we can seal out any bad thing. We are deeply aware that a health crisis, accident, job loss, natural disaster, or other setback can happen to any one of us. Perhaps this is why we read from Kohelet (the Book of Ecclesiastes) during Sukkot, who reminds us that “time and chance happen to [us] all.”
Sukkot reminds us that yes, we need shelter and protection, and, at the same time, walls don’t keep us perfectly safe. There is a limit to our ability to shield ourselves from every threat and danger. Our lives, communities, and environment are inherently fragile. Being vulnerable is simply part of what it means to be human.
It’s hard to be vulnerable–physically, emotionally–spiritually. But our tradition reassures us that even though we can’t defend ourselves against every possibility, the good news is that we aren’t alone. Sukkot reminds us that we are connected and interconnected. We are connected to the eternal cycles and rhythms of the natural world. We are protected by the sheltering presence of the Holy One. And, especially precious in these confusing times, we have our families and our communities, the “shelter of each other.”
After the solemn introspection of the High Holy Days, the joy of Sukkot is a literal breath of fresh air. While we are waving the lulav in all directions, we remind ourselves that each of us is part of the universe, surrounded by God’s goodness. As we eat, play, or even sleep in our perfectly imperfect little sukkahs, let’s allow ourselves to be aware of this precious balance, to feel profound gratitude for the many blessings that permeate our lives.