Saturday, October 18, 2008

Sukkot: Shelter, Snow, and Saecular Winter

In Israel, they say that rain on Sukkot is bad luck. The winter rains should begin after the this autumn pilgrimage festival is over, so that travelers may get home from Jerusalem before the roads become muddy and impassible. In this year of worry and anxiety, all the signs seem pointed towards hard times.

Is snow on Sukkot then a sign of impending Saecular Winter? A time of crisis?
Like the Fourth Turning itself, the signs are in the minds of those who observe them.
At the cusp of a different turning, the snow on Sukkot would be given a different meaning.
For it is we who make the meanings. And this Sukkot feels like the "coming of the winter" in a way that past Sukkots did not.

Sukkot, the festival of the Ingathering Harvest, begins on the full moon six months after the full moon of Pesach.

Here the full moon sets on the first morning of the seven-day festival, and that is snow on the roof of the house!

On the previous evening, we ate in the Sukkah as the sun set. Although the setting sun was warm on our faces, the clouds were gathering. By the time we had waved the lulav, the wind had picked up, and we cleared up as a fine mist began to fall. In the morning, it was snow that fell on our mountain.

On Tuesday afternoon, it was clear that we would eat at the kitchen table, gazing out at the snowy Sukkah.
The commandment is to dwell in the Sukkah over the days of the festival. However, we are also commanded to rejoice in the fruit of our labor. But the Rabbis of the Talmud understood that rejoicing and getting cold and wet are not compatible states of being. Thus one may not dwell in the Sukkah when it rains. Or snows? Do they mention snow on Sukkot in the Talmud?

We have had strong winds and rain when Sukkot comes in mid-October, but this is the first time I have found snow on my Sukkah on the first day! Not to worry! The Chile Lights are outdoor-rated by Underwriters Laboratories.

Wednesday was damp and blustery.
Thursday, it was cold enough that we said the blessings and waved the lulav in the Sukkah, but ate indoors.

Yesterday, though was actually hot in Albuquerque and warm here at Sedillo. It was a calm, clear evening. So I dressed the Sukkah up for Shabbat.
We said the blessings as the sun set.

Ah! Finally, a comfortable, leisurely meal in our own Sukkah.
Sukkot is the festival of joy in the harvest, and in the Sukkah we remember with gratitude the shelter of our home, and the shelter of each other.

It was so fine an evening, that we lingered over the meal, sitting and telling stories well after dark. The Chem Geek Princess closed escrow on her first house Friday, so we talked about our past houses, aware that soon our family dwelling will be reduced from sheltering four humans to three. (The number of canines and felines and amphibians is expected to remain stable for the time being). So this is the last Sukkot with all of us under one roof.

As frustrated and worried as we all are about the state of our country's economy, we have banned political talk in the Sukkah. No discussions of stock markets, bail-outs, the election and (especially) temple politics are allowed under the Chile Lights.

As we helped each other stay within the ban, we found ourselves talking instead about how grateful we are for what we have. Our home is secure. We have food in the pantry, and supplies laid in for the winter (and for hard times, should they come). We are secure with each other.

We finally put on jackets as the Engineering Geek took up the lulav.

We wave it in the four directions, towards the sky, and towards the ground, singing Songs of the Ascents: Hodu l'Adonai ki tov . . . Give thanks to Adonai for G-d is good . . ."
"B'zeit Yisrael mi-Mitzrayim . . . When Israel came forth from slavery . . ." "Esa enai el-he-harim . . . I will lift my eyes up to the mountains . . ." "Ana Adonai, hoshiana . . . deliver us, Adonai . . ."

It is a primitive moment. And yet, modern though we are, and not farmers at all, we understand the sense of joy and satisfaction that comes from work well done, a harvest well brought in, and stores laid in for the winter. This year, we have begun to consider how to prepare for the Saecular Winter that is coming with the beginning of the season of crisis.

On Sukkot, we celebrate the harvest. In the shaky, temporary dwelling of the Sukkah, we remember the years of dwelling in the wilderness, the years of learning to be free. Part of the joy in the midst of uncertainty is the understanding that although life is short, the earth yields up incredible riches that can and will sustain us, and give us reason to celebrate the fruits of our labor, in good economic times as well as in bad.

During Sukkot, we read Megillat Kohelet--the Scroll of the Preacher (Ecclesiastes). The Preacher, it is said, is Solomon the Wise, who in his youth wrote the Song of Songs and in his age wrote this scroll. He laments that all that a human does appears to be vain, chasing after the wind that cannot be caught. That life is short and impending death makes human striving seem futile. But he sees that wisdom lies in rejoicing over what can and is accomplished. That rather than eat one's bread in bitterness because life is not endless, one should appreciate the work of one's hands thus:

"Behold, that which I have seen: it is good, yes, it is beautiful for a man to eat and to drink to enjoy the pleasure for all his labor that he works under the sun, all the days of his life that
G-d has given him, for this is his portion. Everyone also to whom G-d has given riches and wealth, and has given him power to eat thereof, and to take his portion, and to rejoice in his labor. This is the gift of his life. For let him remember that his days are not many; that G-d answers him in the joy of his heart."

In the hard days that are coming what do we have? We have much if we prudently keep the fruits of our labor, and rejoice in what we have made and done. For the Eternal answers us in the joy of our lives, not in meanness and suffering.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Banning talk of economics and temple politics during this holy time is probably a good idea -- and a needed respite. :-) By the way, congratulations on your award nomination.