It was a time maybe a year a go when I was riding my bicycle in small circles in the little alley behind where we were living then while Minna watched from our tiny porch. Suddenly and unexpectedly -- I can't even tell you how it could have happened -- I lost my balance. This kind of thing hardly ever happens, but it was not totally unfamiliar. I assessed my situation. I realized that I was going to fall, and there was nothing I could do to prevent it. Time slowed down, somehow. A kind of acceptance came over me. This, even though I could hear a car in the alley, and as I turned my head towards it, it became quite clear to me it was heading in my direction. Still, there was no panic. Again, I assessed my situation. I figured the one thing I could do was bend my neck to move my head a little bit away from the car's path, which would make it less likely I was about to be hit. I felt no fear. If anything, I felt joy. I felt happy with the way I was conducting my life. I liked the little alley, and savoring it by riding my bike around it.
In some senses, the whole of our lives are a fall. We know that, eventually, death awaits us all. Joy -- the kind of joy I think our Sages must have been thinking about when they dubbed the holiday of Sukkot as זמן שחתנו/zman simchateinu, the Time of Our Joy -- comes amid finding some kind of true acceptance of our (fragile!) human condition and embracing it.
Sitting in this intentionally temporary shelter -- this hut -- with its very temporary roof made of organic materials and full of holes (enough coverage to make more shade than sun, but such that you can still see the stars) reminds us of the fragility of all things, and that true shelter comes not from any material, but from something higher. The tradition commands us to dwell in this place that reminds us of our fragility. And it instructs us on some things to do there in this "time of joy" -- eat, have guests. Fellowship.
It is no accident that this holiday comes in the season that we also happen to call the fall. One of the holiday's roots is in the harvest time of the land of Israel -- the autumn harvest that is naturally both a time of joy and also of a consciousness of fragility. It is a time -- amid the harvest -- of plenty, when there is more than enough food for everyone to eat. But it is also a time when every person dependent on agriculture for life would be wondering, are the rains coming after this long dry season of no rain at all? Will there be enough to sustain our crops for the full year? Will there be enough?
This Sukkot there was sustenance aplenty for Minna and I. And, of course, I mean not only food. But there were guests, and some wonderful times with them under the corn stalks that made up our roof. Sometimes we were driven out of the Sukkah by rain, but even that was joyful as we laughingly moved the food, table and chair together into more permanent shelter. I am grateful for this experience of being reminded of how fragility and joy can, perhaps paradoxically, be so intertwined with each other. It was truly a time of our joy.
PS The car missed me, thank God!
PSS Hag Sameach!