Chag Sameach! The festival of Sukkot welcomes us with the Lulav and Etrog, the decorated Sukkah and concludes with the joyous celebration of Torah in Simchat Torah. Quite a week! As with the Pilgrammage Festivals (Sukkot, Pesach and Shavuot) there is an assigned book from the Wisdom literature that is read during the festival. For Sukkot, it is the Book of Ecclesiastes. This is one of the more famous books of the Bible. Many of our generation have the Byrds album that featured “Turn, Turn, Turn”. Well, this is the original lyric (Ecclesiastes 3).
This is a great book to study. It is, at one glance somewhat depressing, in that the theme of much of it is that all we do is, in the end, emptiness or, according to one translation, futility. There is a horrid description of aging in chapter 12. Yet, the book ends with hope and, if you can take the time to read the book and discuss it, I think you will find many hidden jewels. Let me suggest one that I think relates to us and our life journey.
Look at the 1st chapter of the book and you will see some of the more famous passages of Biblical text. “One generation goes and another comes, but the earth endures forever. The sun also rises and the sun sets–and glides back to where it rises….All streams flow into the sea; yet the sea is never full…the eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear of hearing…Only that shall happen which has happened, only that occur which has occurred; There is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1: 4, 5, 7, 8, 9). Why is this so powerful for us?
I think a message here is to remind us that we are part of something greater than our own self. That we are, in every way, part of nature; that there is a cycle of life and we are part of that cycle; the cylce of birth and death, decay and renewal; that our lives, in a very real way, flow into the collective history of humanity. That is why the linkage to Simchat Torah, I feel, is so real. That end celebration of Sukkot renews Torah. We finish Deuteronomy and immediately begin Genesis. It is a symbol of life itself. We are part of this eternal evolution, this ebb and flow of humanity. Instead of thinking that since we are part of this eternal cycle our life is futile; what the tradiiton is telling us–especially important as we grow older–is that because we are part of this cycle, our life must be lived so as to have meaning and the search for that meaning is a life long challenge. We do not stand apart from history, we are history; and so again, what we choose to do with our life and how we choose to live that life helps define us and, ina very real sense, our own place in that history. By our existence, we flow into the river of time and bhy what we choose to do with that life, we add to that collective experience. So when you participate in that Simchat Torah celebration next week, know that yoiu are seeing a symbolic enactment of our own life; from one generation to the next, we have another chance to renew and re-define our life, to write our own new scroll, to become part of the eternal flow of Jewish life and human history.
Have a wonderful Sukkot. Chag Sameach
Rabbi Richard F Address
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.