September 22, 2013 · 7:11 am
An old Israeli joke tells of a certain Israeli politician (who for politically correctness purposes shall remain nameless) who, while driving on the highway, receives a call from his wife. Frantically, she informs him she just heard on the news that some lunatic is driving in the wrong direction on the highway. Even more frantically, he responds “one lunatic? there ALL driving in the wrong direction”!
That kind of sums up my underlying feeling during Sukkot in Toronto so far. So much of it seemed “off”, purely ritualistic, even fake. A few examples are these:
1. During the days leading up to the Chag, everyone was busy building Sukkot and buying Arba’at Haminim. I couldn’t help but feel they are missing the point – these are celebrations of the land of Israel and by choosing to celebrate it in Chutz La’aretz it seems an imitation, even a mockery.
2. The Birkat Kohanim during Chagim in Chutz La’aretz has a special atmosphere due to its rarity; announcements are made and special tunes are used, etc… But for some reason all I could think of during Birkat Kohanim is that the rest of the year we DON’T say Birkat Kohanim in Chutz La’aretz because there is no Simcha (joy) in Chutz La’aretz except on Chagim and Simcha is a prerequisite for blessing the people. Was I the only one thinking to myself “this reminds me – why do I choose to live in a place which is Halachically defined as joyless and without happiness?” or, “what is wrong with the way I lead my life that I don’t even notice that my life is defined as Halachically joyless?”
3. The first two days of Sukkot had wonderful weather. For the first time in years, supposedly, all meals of the first two days could be eaten, comfortably, in the Succah. I was speaking with an acquaintance after Shul on the second day when she said “this Sukkot weather is so great. It’s like being in Israel!”.
Am I the only crazy one who couldn’t just enjoy the Chag, with its myriad beautiful Mitzvot, or is everyone else crazy for not realizing that once you choose to stay in Galut all that’s left is empty, insincere rituals? especially with a holiday like Sukkot?
September 22, 2013 · 6:05 am
I’ve grown accustomed to hearing, year after year, that “Sukkot is the hardest holiday to explain to outsiders”, or the o-so-popular “if a non Jew saw us shaking our Lulavim he’d think we were all pagans”. A popular answer is the standard default of “we do it because Hashem commanded us even if it looks strange”, or better yet, “even more so because it is strange”.
I cannot accept these kinds of answers.
1. I refuse to accept that Torah and Mitzvot are some sort of test, which is the foundation of these types of answers. I don’t observe Mitzvot in order to prove anything to anyone – other nations, other Jews, myself or even God. (For a short piece on why I am observant see here
2. I completely disagree that there is anything odd or strange in the observances of Sukkot. Only a Judaism that has lost touch with its own origins could say such a thing. Torah is rooted in the life of a nation in its land. The three major holidays revolve around agricultural. They may have a historical element to them as well (Shavu’ot less so as expressed here
) but their celebrations are primarily agricultural. Throughout exile, these elements were downplayed or forgotten altogether to the point where we are uncertain how engaging with nature on the most fundamental level could possibly fit with Torah.
And I say – few things make more sense than connecting to Hashem through the embracement of nature. We leave our artificial, man made, houses and lives and surround ourselves with those of Hashem’s. We surround ourselves with nature, we touch nature, we smell nature and it is all a Mitzvah. Doing nothing at all in the Sukkah is a Mitzvah not just because “Hashem said we should do it”, rather because, if you view nature as a place where Hashem dwells and reveals himself than by embracing it you are embracing Him (fulfilling a Mitzvah). Sukkot reveals that, sometimes, you can connect to Hashem even by just being You.
Maybe this can only be done after the purging of Rosh Hashan and Yom Kippur but, non the less, it reveals the possibility of engaging the divine without all the regular “hoopla”, rather by just getting in touch with the most fundamental aspects of existence – (our) nature itself.
Imagine how sincere such a natural/holly שמחה of מצווה such an approach would evoke and produce!