Sunday, September 26, 2010

Seedlings of Sukkot

Sukkot. Despite all the work it entails, it is a Holiday I look forward to each year. A Sukkah is literally a booth, a temporary structure we build adjacent to our home for the week-long Jewish Holiday of Sukkot.  It is one of the three biblically mandated Holidays on which Jews made pilgrimages to the Temple in Jerusalem. It is a happy time for anyone who builds a Sukkah and enjoys the Mitzvot (good deeds) it earns. It is actually a commandment to be happy which makes it an even more joyful occasion. Why do we build a Sukkah where we eat (and sleep) during this period? We are directed to embark on this undertaking to commemorate the time we spent in the desert in transit from Egyptian slavery. The Jewish People were miraculously freed from slavery only to find themselves en route to the Land of Israel through the uninhabitable desert. They built temporary, fragile huts along the way somewhat similar to those we create each year. So how did they survive the 40 years it took to reach the Promised Land with such inadequate provisions? Only by the Hand of HaShem. He provided food daily in the form of manna which sustained our people with all the nutrients needed and was as tasty as they chose. ‘Clouds of Glory’ accompanied them on their journey to guide them and protect them on their way.  Our Sukkah is a small offering of thanks and recognition of the Wondrous Miracles HaShem performed in order to bring us to our Holy Land.

We utilize a Lulav and Etrog to represent the unity of our People. We pray for the unification His Holy Name, uniting the letters in perfect harmony. There is so much to be said about Sukkot, but I want to share a personal aspect that came to mind this year.

The Sukkah itself has many precise specifications but we are free to choose the basic design and materials on our own, within the framework of the rules. For the last several years, due to storage considerations and mobility, we have been constructing our Sukkah with plastic walls. This year, in Israel at least, the weather has been extremely hot. During the evening meals, the flying bugs found the light bulb very enticing so it became a good test for us to keep them out of our food. By this hour though, the temperature was pleasant and aside from the insects, sitting in the Sukkah was a pleasure.

The daytime meals were a different story. We were sweltering in the heat, like plants in a hothouse. Our Sukkah contains two mesh windows but that only allowed for oxygen to enter. With no breeze, we had to concentrate on the amazing food which HaShem provided and the Mitzvot we were fulfilling to keep us from running into the comfort of our apartment. I couldn’t help but look for a explanation for this difficulty. Since everything is for a reason, this too must have some significance other than making us sweat. The more I felt like a plant being germinated in a greenhouse, the more I realized that was essentially what was happening. A greenhouse or hothouse is used to protect plants from the outside elements, to enable them to grow while storms or other undesirable situations brew on the other side of the walls. It creates the opportune conditions to enable their optimum development while they are still in the delicate stages of life. This is exactly what G-d is doing with us. By following His Laws, specifically the Festival of Sukkot, we protect ourselves from the negative exterior forces which may otherwise rule (and ruin) our lives. We are allowing ourselves to thrive within the boundaries our Father has set for us.

As with all occurrences in life, we must use each opportunity to grow and learn, putting our trust in no one other than The Creator. Once we understand and internalize that He, and only He, is our Protector, we ‘seedlings’ will flourish into grown ‘plants’. Through our actions we prove our sacred desire to accept and appreciate all HaShem has bestowed upon us, consequently He will remove the walls He has placed around us. Then, G-d willing, He will be able to transplant us from the 'hothouse' back into the Garden of Eden. Only there will we experience the true joy we have waited so long to merit, even greater than the joy of Sukkot. May that day arrive soon!

Post script: 
"All who are exempt from the succah [because of severe discomfort; e.g. heavy rain or extreme cold] and do not leave, do not receive reward for this and are merely simpletons (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim, Ramah, 639:7)"
We considered going inside due to the unbearable heat, but it wasn't enough discomfort to give up sitting in the Sukkah. Had I gone inside, I wouldn't have been inspired to look for an explanation which to me was well worth the effort. 

Monday, September 20, 2010

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Center of the Storm

Something has been bothering me for a very long time now. A 'very long time' is a relative term since a long time could be anywhere from thousands of years, several years to a few hours or minutes etc., depending on the context.  But if you're a young soldier serving your mandatory army service and are violently taken hostage against your will, even one second is far too long. And for that boy's parents, family and friends, 'a very long time' becomes a never ending nightmare.  It doesn't take much to guess that I am referring to Gilad Shalit and all of our missing soldiers; Ron Arad, Guy Hever, Zvi Feldman, Yehuda Katz and Zachariya Baumol, may they all be well.

We have recently seen proof that Gilad ben Aviva is still alive, thank G-d. Anyone with a heart must feel as I do whenever I think of him languishing in some cold, dark, damp cement room, all alone with no one but his captors to revive his spirits. When I get chilly at night I think of him, and cry, and wonder if he has blankets to keep him warm. During Yom Kippur yesterday, our Day of Atonement, I contemplated whether or not he even realized what day it was. Would he be allowed to practice his own religious rituals? Surely not. As we are all aware, against International Law, he has been denied the basic human right of being allowed a humanitarian visit by the Red Cross, or any other neutral organization for that matter (not that the Red Cross is neutral). I know I am not alone as I pray daily for his spiritual, physical and emotional health and for his immediate return home.

As long as he remains imprisoned, it is incumbent upon us, those who are free to come and go as we please, free to speak our minds, to do everything in our power to ensure that he is released.  Whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 4:8 (37a)

Something just doesn't make sense to me and it is time to put it on the table, so to speak. The Israeli Army has amazing intelligence. They pretty much know where many wanted terrorists are at any given moment.  They are able to use precision strikes to blow up desired targets without hurting civilians. They can go to foreign countries and successfully put a 'hit' on dangerous enemies.  But they don't know where one little, suffering, lone soldier is being held?  I just don't buy that.  It is impossible that no one knows where Gilad is being kept. So why aren't they getting him out?  His parents must have asked this question more times than I.  Are those who are at the helm of the army afraid of the consequences?  That has never been a deterrent in the past. Which leaves me with just one conclusion; G-d has some major plan of His own. Since HaShem is in control of everything,  He is obviously directing this as well. Nothing makes sense and everything is upside down. This is the world experiencing the birth pangs of Moshiach and I feel like Gilad Shalit is in the center of it. He could very well, G-d willing, soon be part of his own rebirth, as the head of the storm of Redemption crowns into a new dawn.   

In the meantime, as we wait with anticipation, we must all join together to beseech HaShem to protect Gilad, watch over him and guard him from harm.  And may he, all the missing soldiers, Jonathan Pollard and all of our People soon be united in Peace and Joy in the service of HaShem at the newly rebuilt Beit Hamikdosh