D'vrei Torah by Rabbi Ellie Shemtov
Serenity is not freedom from the storm but peace amid the storm
Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are over. We have struggled and we have repented. We have forgiven and we have been forgiven. Having come out of this state of reflection we are now ready to begin the year by turning our introspection outward. We step outside our homes and joyously head into the holiday of Sukkot-- into nature and the Sukkah. Sukkot arrives five days after Yom Kippur and what a difference five days makes.
As Rabbi Michael Cohen writes: “Yom Kippur takes place inside; Sukkot takes place outside. On Yom Kippur we fast; while on Sukkot we feast. On Yom Kippur we pray and study with our minds; for Sukkot we build with our might. On Yom Kippur we hold a book in our hands; on Sukkot with the lulav and etrog we hold nature. On Yom Kippur we are serious and introspective; on Sukkot we are told to be joyful.”
It’s true that this year COVID-19 has intervened to make the contrast between Yom Kippur and Sukkot somewhat less stark. After all, nature has taken on a larger role for many of us since the beginning of the quarantine. Nature has become more often a place to find serenity and peacefulness amidst the Coronavirus storm. At the RJC we even spent part of our High Holy Day services praying outdoors.
Even so, as we enter the sukkah the contrast could hit us like a ton of bricks. For the most part, we spent this Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in our homes rather than in our synagogue and now on Sukkot we leave those homes which offer permanence, and enter a temporary structure, a sukkah where we will eat, talk, read, pray, and sometimes sleep.
Nature has become a more active part of many of our lives these past seven months. While those encounters have in part been a function of being quarantined, Sukkot brings Jewish law into play as we are commanded to dwell in the sukkah for seven days. So, no matter what the world dishes out – and it has been dishing out quite a bit lately —just know that the sukkah can help us find serenity – a serenity that does not so much bring freedom from the storm but rather peace amid the storm.
The RJC sukkah and the sukkah in my backyard (247 Lincoln Ave.) will be open for meals during the Sukkot holiday. A lulav and etrog will also be available at both locations. Contact the office or me (email@example.com or 202-246-5752) to let us know when you want to come.