Thought Tools Glad to be Sad
September 22, 2010 14th day of Tishrei, 5770 Volume III Issue #38You know those days. You feel unstoppable and on top of the world, walking on air with sheer delight. A real king of the hill. Keep your balance!
And then the days when you’re dejected and all alone and your eyes fill with the hot tears of defeat and you feel that life isn’t worth living. Keep your balance!
Things are seldom as deliriously intoxicating as they might seem and they are never as hopeless and despairing as they often appear to be. Keep your balance.
This Wednesday night is the beginning of the Feast of Tabernacles; we call it Sukot, the plural of the word Sukah based on this verse:In Sukot you shall live for seven days…so that your generationswill know that in Sukot I sat the children of Israel when I tookthem out of the land of Egypt, I am the Lord your God.
This holyday is uniquely characterized as “the time of our joy” on account of the following verses:
…and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days.
(Leviticus 23:40)You shall make the holyday of Sukot for seven days…And you shall rejoice in your holyday…
In another of those puzzling paradoxes we so frequently encounter in our Biblical studies and whose resolution inevitably leads to one more blinding truth about how the world REALLY works, we find death surrounding the holyday called “Time of our Joy.” Death and joy? Really?
Look at a few of these death allusions. The holyday of Sukot occurs in the fall when the post-harvest fields are empty and the trees lose their leaves. The days are getting shorter and cooler. (Not coincidentally, this is when Halloween with its foolish emphasis on death and ghosts also occurs.)
The main rule about the Sukah is that its roof must comprise vegetation that once was alive but is now disconnected from the earth and dying. The four tree species which we hold in our hands and bless each day of Sukot are green and beautiful but we watch them fade and wither.
During the Passover Seder we invite real living people who might be hungry to come and join our meal. However, during Sukot, we invite dead people to join us. On each night of the holyday we formally invite to our tables, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, and David.
The decidedly gloomy book of Ecclesiastes is read during the holyday of Sukot, with verses such as these:Better is a name than good oil and the day of deathis better than the day of birth.
It is better to go to a house of mourningthan to a house of festivity…
You get the idea. The seven day festival of Sukot is highlighted as the time of joy. Indeed, in Israel today, a happy atmosphere pervades the air on Sukot, felt by religious and non-religious alike. Yet it unquestionably contains more than its fair share of deathly allusions.
I suspect that you have already grasped what God is hinting at. You see, if we all lived forever, we would never know the real happiness of living. Without sorrow there can be no joy and without darkness, there can be no light. Paradoxically, the holyday of happiness must refer to death.
The reverse is also true. Every pain ultimately carries the promise of pleasure; poverty promises prosperity and sadness contains the seed of happiness. The distress of death presumes the joy of eternal life.
Rabbi Daniel Lapin