Monday, September 20, 2021

Succos 5782



Erev Succos

14 Tishrei 5781/September 20, 2021


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לרפואה שלימה נטע יצחק בן רחל


            The season of repentance is described as a great gift from G-d, one that offers us renewal and redirection. So why do we dread it so much?

            You’re schmoozing with a friend at a simcha, laughing and reminiscing together. Without thinking much about it, you haphazardly grab a bottle of soda from the middle of the table and rapidly begin twisting it open. You failed to realize that the waiter had just brought that bottle of soda to the table and had dropped it along the way. In a moment there is soda spritzing all over the table, your suit (dress/shaitel), and face. Aside for the big mess, it’s embarrassing. It’s definitely a sticky situation to be in (sorry).

            The carbonated contents of the bottle had been under pressure. To avoid a bursting explosion, it needed to have been opened slowly and methodically.

            Most of us have a lot going on beneath the surface of our lives and personalities. But we feel that we have to maintain a superficial veneer that our lives are perfect, and we have everything together. Despite the fact that everyone has their share of struggles and challenges, we like to pretend everything is peachy and perfect. After all, we are naively fooled that our neighbors indeed have everything together, so how can we let anyone know that we don’t?

            So, we bottle everything up, causing tremendous pressure to build within ourselves. For much of the time we are able to keep pushing everything beneath the surface or the rug and go about our lives.

            That is part of the reason why many of us fear the process of teshuva. Why shake up the bottle and create an explosion? Who wants to find out what’s under the bottle cap?

            The problem is that in order to grow, one must be willing to confront all those things he spends his life hiding from. He has to open the cap on the bottle and allow the mounting pressure to escape. But he’s afraid that it may explode beyond what he can handle. The problem is that, alas, there is no other way to grow beyond one’s current state.

            During the sublime days of Tishrei, the custom is that we recite tashlich in front of a flowing body of water, preferably water that has fish swimming in it. (Of course, there are some readers who just looked up and said “Oy! I still have to remember to say tashlich!” This is your reminder that you have until Hoshana Rabbah.)

            When one looks at a body of water it seems serene and level. But just beneath the surface of the water is an entire world obscured from view.

            One of the reasons why tashlich is recited at a waterfront is to symbolize that, like flowing water, G-d’s Kingship flows and continues eternally. Perhaps it’s also to symbolize that just as there is a world beneath the surface of the water obscured from the view of those on shore, so is the depth of G-d’s monarchy beyond human comprehension. There are layers and layers of depth beyond what our finite minds can grasp.

            The truth is that within ourselves as well there is much greatness that we fail to tap into. It’s uncomfortable to pull off the cap that’s keeping the contents under pressure. But when we do so, we discover wonderful content we never realized was there.

            The question then becomes, once one has opened the proverbial bottle, and dealt with the pressure and explosion it generated, what does he do next? Does he immediately close it back up and put in the fridge, or does he then enjoy the delicious contents?

            Now that we hopefully have engaged in that discomfort during the great days of teshuva, pulling and pushing ourselves beyond our comfort zone, how do we maintain it?

            Rabbi Aaron Moss of Sydney, Australia, explains it this way:

            “Having just emerged from the security and nurture of the womb, a newborn baby is particularly vulnerable and sensitive. So, moments after birth, it is immediately swaddled to keep it protected and warm.

            “But swaddling doesn't last long. You rarely see teenagers wrapped up in a cloth with their arms behind their ears (though perhaps some should be.) Swaddling is a brief bridging stage between the safety of the womb and the hazards of real life. A well wrapped baby will eventually grow to face life unwrapped. The swaddle cloth just helps him get there.

            “Your soul needs that bridge too. You have emerged from the womb of Yom Kippur, a pure and renewed soul. The negative residue from your past has been cleansed. Your soul is now tender and sensitive, and easily susceptible to the coldness of spiritual apathy and other moral germs floating in the air. You need some protection. You need to be swaddled. You need a Sukkah.

            “The Sukkah is the only mitzvah that you do with your whole being. The holy air of the Sukkah completely envelops and surrounds you. It turns everything you do into a holy act. Eating and drinking and chatting in the Sukkah is a mitzvah, just because it is done in the divine shade of the Sukkah. When you sit in a Sukkah, you are being swaddled by sanctity. 

            “Going from the highs of Yom Kippur straight back into the routine of the mundane world is like taking a newborn from her mother's womb straight out into the cold night. You just can’t do that. Sit in the Sukkah. Bask in its sacred shade. Be enwrapped in its warm embrace.”

            I would add that particularly after baring our soul, making ourselves vulnerable and facing the parts of ourselves that we tried to hide, we need added reassurance and encouragement. We need to feel that despite exposing the cold parts of ourselves to the elements, we are still beloved in the eyes of the divine.

            But the truth is that it’s the opposite. It’s because we had the courage to turn inwards and expose those painful parts of ourselves, to face our demons and confront our shames in order to grow, that we are so beloved.

            That’s the beauty and joy of Succos. We are welcomed to sit in the shadow of the divine and to celebrate the self-discovery we have gained. The cap is off. Now it’s time to enjoy the wonderful contents you discover inside.


            Freilichen Yom Tov & Chag Sameiach,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum