October 10, 2014

We are not in Oz

Picture on Etrog Box 
Wednesday felt a bit like a marathon. It was erev Sukkot, the holiday that takes place five days after Yom Kippur. Also known as the Festival of Booths, the holiday is centered around a Sukkah.

Most people traditionally start building their sukkahs right after the Yom Kippur fast. This was not an option for our family; we were in Ra’anana, our Sukkah parts were in Tsfat and we could not assemble it any earlier than Wednesday. Our personal challenge was driving north two hours, building a Sukkah, decorating it and having special meals ready to entertain guests for the holiday that started at sundown.

This required organization and planning.  My daughter cleverly suggested she make the decorations ahead of time. I cooked and froze and cooked and froze. Our real challenge was arriving in Tsfat in good time. Getting anywhere in Israel erev chag is a challenge as everyone clogs every road with cars so overstuffed with suitcases and kids and grandparents and food that children’s cheeks are plastered against windows.  With this in mind, we eyed each other and asked, ‘anyone up for an adventure?’
Sukkah decorating 

When you have little time in the day, take it from the night. We set our clocks for 3 am and placed our bags by the front door. At 3:15 am, I was stuffing my frozen food into coolers, while my daughter was placing her decorations in the car. We were on the road by 4 am and sped off in the cool darkness with barely a car in sight. We made a brief 5:30 am stop at my daughter’s army base to pick her up. We could barely make out the shapes of the soldiers who were making their way home in the pitch darkness.

The sun rose as we wound around the mountain roads, arriving in Tsfat by 6:30 am. We were exhausted but felt ahead of the game with so many hours of the day yawning in front of us. Our task was becoming achievable.

We built the frame of the sukkah, adorned it with our pre-made decorations and organized the food for the next two holiday meals. It was time to set the table. Out came the tablecloth, silverware, wine glasses and china plates. The final touch was arranging our elegant black and white napkins.

As we basked in our accomplishment, there was a clap of thunder. Lightning flashed overhead and the wind whipped up dust and leaves. I ran to our roof to see a bolt of lightning sizzle in front of Meiron Mountain. Looking up to my friend Susan’s house,  I saw her holding a sukkah wall in place while a piece of golden tinsel flew out like a spooked swallow. “Hey Dorothy,” I yelled to her through the cyclone. “Tap your slippers three times.”

I ran down to save the flimsy bamboo roof of our sukkah, senselessly perched atop an aluminum ladder with daggers of lightning above.  The rain came next. We stripped the table, cut down the hanging decorations and prayed our sukkah would not end up in Oz. Within seconds, the sun was out and the birds were chirping. I picked up a shiny tinsel that had blown in from a neighbour’s sukkah and asked ‘why’?

The answer was obvious to me. Hashem tells the Jewish people “You shall live in booths seven days; all citizens in Israel shall live in booths, in order that future generations may know that I made the Israelite people live in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt.” (Vayikra 23, 42-43) The sukkah is a temporary dwelling because life is transient. The gusting 60 kph storm winds that blew across the whole country? A firm reminder that we should not become too attached to our physical comforts because they can separate us from our spiritual connection. And here we were, placing our energy into creating a perfectly designed,  elegant, Martha Stewart-style sukkah.

Well, at least our sukkah had not flown to Oz. After the storm, it was still standing but was bare, humble, stripped. Fragile and impermanent just like all of us. The sukkah is supposed to be open to the elements and we are to accept that life will blow and tousle and howl and break us. Yet we are to have trust and acceptance and this is why Sukkot is also called “Zman Simchateinu,” a time of rejoicing.

We are to sit outside, live simply, study the stars twinkling above our heads and experience wonder. I often try to plan ahead but am shown that my frail plans simply do not work out. 

I put away my ladder and realized that there is no time left to give my sukkah a makeover. But that is fine; the less decorations we have on our walls, the greater is my opportunity to marvel at the stars above.

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