The festival of Tabernacles has long been my favourite. It goes back to my childhood. Both my brother and sister now fondly remember “how we helped schlep the (wall) panels of the succa (booth) from the garage to the patio, bolt the pieces together and close the roof! Also sitting in overcoats at night with the heater on – magical!” My late father was probably the first, certainly in our suburb of London, to have hand-made his own succa, replete with floor and opening roof. For years it served as the centre piece of my parents’ socializing; an annual gathering after the Festival services.
We’ve come a long way in the fifty (almost sixty) years since then. I’ve managed to reinvent my own succa-building tradition in Israel – in a slightly more “hands-on” manner – using the help of Pam’s every increasing next generation of little cousins. And our succa also allows us the opportunity to welcome friends.
This year, however, I felt a change of mindset. For some reason I wanted to read more about the festival of Tabernacles and its concept of rejoicing. I looked up the biblical text of Deuteronomy 16: 13-15: “And you shall rejoice in your feast, you and your son, and your daughter, and your manservant, and your maidservant, and the Levite, and the stranger, and the fatherless and the widow… and you shall be altogether joyful.”
Rabbi Shlomo Riskin wrote about the festival in The Jerusalem Post this week. He pointed out that the Bible “is teaching us the sequence of joy. A person must be able to rejoice, first of all, with himself, with his own development, growth and accomplishments. Then with his family, the people who are closest to him, and finally his community. One has to appreciate what one has and share it with others.”
On the one hand, how apt and timely I find Riskin’s words. He seemed to summarize my feeling exactly. I sit in my succa thinking through my situation and realizing how much happiness I’ve found in the past year. How my family has helped me and how friends have rallied round. The humility of the succa’s flimsy surrounds seemed to envelop me.
But on the other hand, I found myself thinking that in some ways I’m a bit of a fraud. How nice it’s been that I’ve chirped away on my blog and have received accolades from people I’ve “helped”. They’ve being telling me how much pain they’re suffering and how tiredness and lethargy completely overwhelms them. Only in the last few weeks have I realized that the “words of wisdom” I was waffling about came from a place of less pain, less discomfort and far more energy. Recently I’ve been far closer to the conditions they were suffering – and couldn’t do much to help myself. The feast of Tabernacles comes along and puts things in perspective for me.
I realize that this illness is not going away and has depths that I can’t imagine. My succa made me realize that everything has proportions. But thankfully I’ve been feeling better over the last few days – and this respite from pain allows me to post this blog.