Chag Sameach! The festival of Sukkot is now upon us. This festival, once so important in the Jewish life cycle, now is paled in the afterglow of the High Holidays. Yet, as my colleagues know, it is filled with its own deep meaning and symbolism, from the temporary “booths”, symbolic of the wilderness; to the symbols of Lulav and Etrog. We will stretch this festival out until next week and so many will partake of the tradition of eating, sitting and studying and praying within the confines of the “sukkah”.
For some reason, this festival also brings about feelings of how fragile life and time really are. Maybe it is the fragile nature of the traditional “sukkah” (as opposed to the often manufactured ones that can be seen, built, it seems to withstand a major storm) and its’ temporary nature that has come to remind me of just how fragile life can be and how time, especially as we get older, seems to be uncontrollable.
October 17 is my dad’s Yahrtzeit. How fitting, to me, that it comes on the first day of the festival. It has been 26 years since his death and that is another reality that I have found challenging to accept. He died in his late 70’s (I still do not know the exact cause). That reality is even more disturbing as I am now entering that decade and, to be honest, there is a sense of the quickening of time. The “unetaneh tokef” of the Holidays is so real now. I think many of our generation understand this. Sadly, we have begun to see contemporaries of ours die. For many of us, our parents are now gone. We marvel at our grown children, leading their own independent lives and relish the time with the grandchildren. And all the while, we experience that tick tock of the clock.
This festival, and so much of its symbolism, speaks to me of these themes. I guess that is why there is that theme within our tradition that we must try to live each day to its fullest. The winds of time change everything, and will eventually blow away the sukkah. What will be left? Again, that will be up to each of us.
Rabbi Richard F Address