Shabbat Shalom with a Heart-Healthy Dose of Torah – Chol Hamoed Sukkot
What a great morning! It was the first day of Sukkot, and it is my first Sukkot in my new community. Certainly, there is some anxiety as we plan for new things. It was a leap of faith. We decided to try a sunrise Sukkot service. Morning services are nice (and traditional), but in our real world, people cannot take off from work or school to attend services for festivals. Still though, most communities insist on celebrating the festivals at 9:00 or 10:00 in the morning services. What never ceases to amaze me is that the congregation then gets upset when the only people who attend are retired. Last year in Lexington, and now this year in Tinton Falls, we gathered to welcome the sun come up on the first day of the festival. About thirty people gathered in our Sukkah, to join us. We sang, we read Torah, and we did that which was most Jewish … we ate. We did what our tradition has done for thousands of years, albeit in a manner in that took into account the “real world” in which our congregants live.
I often quote Rabbi Avraham Kook, in arguing that even while we have an obligation to hold fast to thousands of years of tradition, we also have an obligation to make that tradition relevant and to make the new things and situations that we confront and make them holy. So, they probably did not use LED lights or electric hot pots 2000 years ago … they probably had not ever heard of a bagel never mind vegetable cream cheese, but we do know that they gathered for the holidays. We honored tradition, even in a new sort of way.
This is my dilemma, though, people look at the old traditions and argue that they are outdated and must be discarded. In so doing, they discard the people who hold those traditions dear. If we cling too tightly to the traditions of old, then we run the risk of becoming stale and alienating all who search for a relevant spiritual experience. In terms of a ritual life, if people cannot find compelling reasons to invest their spirit, they walk away.
In truth, though, this is really not just about a ritual life … this dilemma faces us in our everyday lives. When I get to study with our Bar and Bat Mitzvah students, I tell them that over the course of the next year (12 to 13) everything they “know” about living will change. Their taste buds, their bodies, their favorite clothes, the way that they pick their friends and their involvements all change. It happens again as they go to High school, and then when they enter the real world. These changes do not happen in a vacuum, and the structure of school and family helps keep us on a somewhat progressive even keel as we experience the roller coaster ride of adolescence. When we leave the nest, we get propelled into this whirlwind of transition as the ground rules all change. First starting off on one’s own is tough, and maintaining focus on movement forward is challenging. Some people look for “home based” anchors by which to keep grounded, while others more freely test the waters of life “out there.” Either extreme leads us nowhere.
We have to allow ourselves room to grow, knowing that the “way we have always done things” cannot allow us access to the evolving future. We also have to hold on to our own sense of identity or our new experiences have no continuum on which to join. A dear friend and colleague, often says that when people resist change in their lives, remind them that they just bought a new car for a reason.
The need for adaptability and keeping one eyes on tomorrow provides us basic survival skills and, at the very same time, the skill and understanding necessary to forge a meaningful transition into the future. This is called prophetic living, and this understanding of prophecy is not about predicting the future, it is about creating it. The prophet possesses a vision of what is necessary for the world to heal and then lives and shares that message. We are all called upon to live with prophetic vision, and this holiday of Sukkot reminds us that when we achieve the goal of living prophetically, we bring nearer the day when the Messianic Age becomes real. It will not happen by accident. It will not happen by perfecting the practice of a lifestyle that keeps us locked in yesterday. It cannot happen if we impose change that works for me, at the cost of you. The Messianic Age, which is to manifest during the holiday of Sukkot, is absolutely dependent on our ability to see what is and clearly envision what needs to be. It is time to remember that old and new are both holy. Pray for peace. Pray for healing. Pray for a love and respect that returns us from our exiles from each other. Pray in ways that make us modify our behaviors in ways that will bring answer to our prayer. In this way, we make the dream of eternal peace real.
Rabbi Marc A. Kline