Each year I am grateful for the direct instruction to begin building a sukkah as soon as Yom Kippur ends. How else would we manage to climb down from the lofty heights of endless song and prayer, if not for the obligation to climb up a new, actual ladder; to set hammer to nail and build an intentionally impermanent and permeable structure.
The days between Yom Kippur and Sukkot are tender and alive. I can feel that I have removed the calluses on my soul. My heart has been stretched open to meet the horizon. I am able to notice a profound contentment, a kind of grateful release, a resting into what is that is itself joyful. Rabbi Alan Lew, z"l, describes this special Sukkot joy as "the joy of being stripped naked, the joy of being flush with life, the joy of having nothing between us and the world" (265).
He then recounts this amazing parable from the Talmud:
"It is the unusual way of human beings to feel secure and unafraid while under the shelter of their own roofs. On emerging from their homes, their sense of security is diminished and they begin to feel fear. [Jews], however, are different. While in their homes the whole year, they are apprehensive. But when Sukkot comes and they leave their homes and come under the shadow of the sukkah, their hearts are full of trust, faith, and joy, for now they are protected, not by the protection of their roofs, but by the shadow of their faith and trust in God.
"The matter may be compared to a person who locks themself up at home for fear of robbers. Regardless of how many locks they use and how strong these locks may be, they remain afraid lest the locks be broken. Once they hear the voice of the King approaching and calling, 'Emerge from your chamber and join me,' they are no longer afraid. They immediately open their doors and emerge joyously to join the King...trust and joy never depart from them" (267).
We are once again invited to take refuge in impermanence; to trust that in our comings and our goings, the Shekhina will accompany us. To know a joy that can contain our tears. To remember that security does not lie in locks and policing, but that through our shared vulnerability and care we keep each other safe.
We began this journey on Tisha b'Av, when we invite the wall to crumble as the first step in waking up to our lives. And we conclude it on Sukkot, as we rebuild, raw and revealed. The journey invites us to not only inhabit our sukkot, but to more fully inhabit our lives. In the words of Rabbi Lew, "any moment fully felt, any immersion in the depth of life, can be the source of deep joy" (267).
After so many months of being afraid, contracted in my own home and in my own soul, I am so full of awe and gratitude for having made it through the experience of the Yamim Noraim this year; for the courage of this community to feel it all fully and immerse so deeply. It was more transformative and more joyful than I ever could have imagined. And I know from my inbox, that we all needed it. And there is still more to come!
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach,
Rabbi Ari Lev
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Rabbi Ari Lev Fornari brings Torat Hayyim, a living tradition, to Kol Tzedek through thoughts about prayer, justice, and community.