by Lauren Shaps
A long time ago I ran away from home. Little did I know that it would teach me the meaning of Sukkot.
A long time ago and far, far away, I got mad at my parents. This was many years before the concept of stranger danger had become part of every pre-school curriculum, so I did what any self-respecting 8- year-old would do. I packed my bags and I left home.
I wandered up the main drag of our newly built suburban neighborhood, shlepping my suitcase, until it got too heavy to drag any further. When both my strength and my anger were fully depleted, I turned around to head home. There I saw the most welcome site an 8-year-old runaway could ever wish for. It was my dad, in our old red Chevy. He had been following quietly, a safe distance behind me, patiently waiting until I was ready to come home.
We make a big mistake by viewing the Jewish holidays as individual entities, unrelated and standing on their own. If we saw them as linked, a trajectory of events, we would see a theme that grows from Rosh Hashanah through Simchat Torah.
Every one of us has a relationship with God. It could range from one of anger and rejection to neutral disbelief. Or it could be one of struggling to believe and to feel a sense of spirituality in a world that appears so real, so physical and concrete. And for the lucky few of simple faith and for those who work very hard to develop the faith that does not come easily, they feel a relationship with the Divine, God’s active involvement, His love and compassion, in all aspects of life.
The holiday season is a triumvirate linking mind, emotion and action. Rosh Hashanah is about creating the proper mindset. We take time to focus on a concept that is so easy to state and so difficult to truly comprehend, the understanding that God is King and He runs the world.
Yom Kippur is about our emotions. If God is truly King and I have spent my year thinking that I was the master of the universe, then I’ve made lots of mistakes, for which I have great regret. I’ve distanced myself from others and from God. I’ve run away from the very One who gives me a livelihood, health, life and breath and love.
Sukkot is about doing. It’s one more way that we show the Almighty that we get it. We take our thoughts and feelings and put them into action. Not because October is a lovely time to sit outside (especially here in Canada), but because God gave us a Torah full of wisdom for living, and one of His commandments is to spend the week of Sukkot living outside in the sukkah, making ourselves vulnerable under the flimsy roof and canopy of stars.
But back to running away. On some level, we all remain 8 years old. We think that we can run away from God, that we can exist without the Almighty. We think that we are free and independent, that we can be it all and do it all, all by ourselves. Simon and Garfunkel, two nice Jewish boys, reflected that mindset best when they sang, “I am a rock, I am an island.”
Rosh Hashanah is the first step of teshuva, of return. To whom are we returning? To God, the Almighty, King of the Universe. Yom Kippur comes next; the road is long, our baggage gets heavy. We aren’t so independent after all. We have challenges in our lives and challenges in the world. We can’t do it alone. So we begin to regret having been so childish, so arrogant, so self-focused, so enamored of our capabilities. We want to repair the relationship. We need God to help us out, to keep us safe, to meet our abundant and never-ending needs. We want to come home. We open our hearts. We repent with regret. We pray with sincerity.
And then it’s Sukkot. Just like my dad, may he live and be well, has always been there quietly to rescue me from trouble, mostly of my own making, and to bring me home, God too is following our journey quietly, from behind. When we repent and turn around, the Almighty welcomes us back. The sukkah is a flimsy shelter. It gets wet in the rain, the wind blows through the gaps between the boards. On cold nights, we shiver and on hot days, the bees join us for lunch or dinner. The sukkah reminds us that our security and safety depend on the Almighty. The world is His home.