Tonight begins the week-long harvest festival of Sukkot. We also have come to call this the “time of our rejoicing,” z’man simchateinu. But with all that is going on in the world right now, is it really appropriate to be rejoicing?
Should we celebrate the several devastating hurricanes that have ravaged the Caribbean islands and southeastern US, or the recent earthquakes in Mexico? Are we to find happiness in the brutality shown toward peaceful voters in Catalonia? Do we view the deadliest mass shooting in US history as something that lifts our spirits? Do we agree with the arrests in Egypt over innocent waving of a rainbow flag, or the constant threats of nuclear attack from North Korea? Are we content with Nazis parading down American streets with lit tiki torches?
As a fellow human being, I would hope that your answers to these questions are “no.” Mine surely are. With Sukkot beginning tonight and the celebration unfolding, I can’t help but think about everything else that is going on outside the sukkah. Are we naive to sit in leaf-covered huts and enjoy a feast with all the unfortunate events of recent days? Are our songs just empty melodies of happiness and gratitude? What is it that we are celebrating?
I am grappling with these questions because I strive to put meaning behind the things I observe and participate in, and holidays are already so full of meaning waiting to be further understood. Within Sukkot there is so much to uncover, and I hope these questions will at least be a start.
We often cannot control what happens, only how we respond and react to it. Unfortunately we cannot reverse natural disasters, nor can we take back the violence of those who do not respect the value of life. Undoing what was done is beyond our power, but this does not mean we are powerless.
Perhaps it is not our privilege to rejoice, but rather our responsibility. Our options are limited. If we do not have hope for the future, we end up in despair. If we do not laugh, are we to cry? If we do not love, are we leaving ourselves only the option to hate? It is often easier to give into the negative emotions and reactions such as anger, sadness, and hatred, and may even seem more instantly gratifying. It takes great strength and discipline to remain positive especially in the face of adversity.
So yes, yes we should be rejoicing. We need to celebrate. We have a responsibility to do so. We can rejoice in the fact that we will not let supremacists overrun our society, that we will peacefully resist brutality until it is not seen as an option, and that when tragedy strikes we will come together in support of those affected. It can be easier to slip into despair than hold-fast to hope. But in this we have a choice. We are the architects of our own futures, and we decide with what materials to build them.
Personally I choose hope, love, and a little bit of schach 🙂
What will you discuss in your sukkah this year?