About a year ago, I was wandering the streets of Bangkok, looking for the Chabad on Kao Sung road. I couldn’t find it because of the giant Sukka that was built in front of it, is easy to overlook when distracted by the outside-massage parlors, food carts, bars with music and the throngs of Thais and tourists on the street.
When I finally found it, I shook the etrog (citrus fruit) and the lulav (branches) and I was told of the ancient tradition of Sukkot, the significance of the prayer as you shake the two signifying the coming together of Jews regardless of their place in life, religion or geography. It was a beautiful thing and it was the epitome of my trip, it was as if the ancient Jews knew of the Jewish hubris that I travel to help and created a yearly festival to celebrate our differences and our commonalities.
You are expected to build a temporary structure and live in the elements, experiencing nature and the world, you are expected to eat and sleep inside of this makeshift tent. As Rabbi Carlebach of Downtown Chabad during his services said, nothing is permanent except God and making and an impermanent home where we eat and sleep reminds us of that and offers us a chance to connect with the real permanence. This then gives our lives a permanence based on a greater reality than illusions of relationships, money, jobs, health, etc.
So I joined one community and then another, without reservations, I was welcomed, I was fed and I was asked to impart that which I learned about the Jews to the Jews that come together. I listened to people’s stories of their Sukkot, of the couples that met in the Sukka and married under a khuppa, of the ways that various cultures decorated theirs from the rugs of Bacharian Jews to the hanging fruit of the Persian Jews and the Sukka towns of Jerusalem where one can walk down a street never leaving a sukka. People spoke of their grandfathers’ sukkas and their friends’ sukkas. It felt as though this is the holiday when strangers become friends and friends become family.
Rabbi Ryan Newfield of Kay Congregation in Carmel Valley said during the service on Shabbat: it is a Mitzvah to be happy for Sukkot. More so, it is a commandment to be happy, because as he said God knows, some will not be happy without a commandment and so for their own benefit God commands to do that which brings one joy for those eight days. But how is it possible? Today, on Shabbat, there were three bombings in Iraq that killed 53 people at a funeral procession. In Israel, a soldier was kidnapped by a coworker in a town where my family lives. How do we remain happy in spite of all this?
Because in spite of it all, most of us, have a lot to be happy for and no there is no way to avoid unhappiness, it will always happen to some, somewhere and it is no reason to be unhappy but a reason to be happy as we are spared the unhappiness and to feel camaraderie with those who are unhappy and do our best to help those who are unhappy, to lift them up to where we are.
So enjoy your time with friends and family, do that which makes you happy and try to instill that happiness for the rest of the year.
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