Sukkot

  1. Hag Sameach
  1. The Holidays are early this year. How many of us were thinking this as we gathered for Rosh Hashana just two weeks ago? I kept hearing all kinds of problems that were caused by the Holidays coming so early. I suppose that it would be nice to have Sukkot like Thanksgiving, always on the last Thursday of the month. I suppose that if the date of Sukkot was fixed on the secular calendar, we would have more people attending, after all, it would be easier to plan the holiday if we knew for certain when it would fall each year.
  1.  I guess we have it easier than the Moslems do with the month of Ramadan. They also use the lunar calendar but they don’t correct for the seasons. Ramadan falls one month earlier each year than the year before. Last year, Ramadan coincided with Tishrei. This year it fell during the month of Elul. Next year it will fall during Tammuz. We Jews might think it is ridiculous to have Sukkot fall in the middle of the summer (although it IS still summer here and in Australia, it is spring.)  We like our holidays to stay within the limits of the season. Sukkot is a harvest festival so it needs to be in the harvest season. This does not seem to be an issue with Islam and Ramadan. I guess they don’t have real seasons in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.
  1.  I have a friend who reminds me each year that Jewish holidays never fall early or late. They fall exactly on time, according to the Jewish lunar Calendar. This is the month of Tishrei and Sukkot will always fall on the full moon of Tishrei. Just like Pesach always falls on the full moon of Nisan and Rosh Hashana always falls on the new moon of Tishrei. There is only one holiday that is measured on the solar calendar. That holiday is Shabbat. It comes every seven sunsets no matter what the moon is doing.
  1. I once had a Hazzan who asked me if I could, as Rabbi, declare that Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur fall later in the year so that he would have more time to prepare for the holidays. That would be a skill that I am sure a lot of people would like to have. When you are late for a deadline, you could just insert a day or two and still finish the project on time. Or better, if we have to take some awful medication for three weeks, why not just jump ahead and not have to struggle with the side effects? I am sure that my old Hazzan would have loved to just skip past the holidays and not have to worry about them for another year.
  1. Imagine being able to skip through time. Think of all the money you could make. Skip ahead and see what stocks and bonds have done well, and then skip back and invest in them. Think of all the bets you could win in you knew in advance, who would win the World Series, the Super Bowl and the NBA playoffs!  Think of the donation you could give to Temple Emeth!  OK! OK!  It was only a fantasy. We can’t skip ahead and the holidays come right when they are supposed to on the lunar calendar.
  1. The fact is that we have very little control over time. It marches on, sixty seconds a minute, sixty minutes an hour, 24 hours and a day. We can not stop time, nor can we fast forward time. We have to live in time, in the present, contemplating the past and dreaming of the future. Animals in nature don’t have to deal with time. They live only in the here and now. They eat when they are hungry, sleep when they are tired, play when they are bored and roll around in the mud if they think the weather is too hot. We human beings have “appointments” alongside our “appointed seasons”. 
  1. We usually don’t like to think about the changing seasons and the passing of time. There is so much to do and we are always so busy. We delay and procrastinate the really important things in our lives and fill our days with meaningless chatter. I often think about the final act in the play by Arthur Miller, “Our Town”. In the last act. Emily has died and wants to go back and relive a past day. The others in the graveyard tell her not to do it. That it is a very frustrating and sad thing to do. You get to relive the day, they say, but you also have to see it with eyes that are wise with years. Emily decides to prevent this sadness, she will go back to a happy day, one her birthdays when she was young. But it turns out that it is not a happy day for her to relive. Her parents go about their daily business, wishing her a happy birthday and not realizing the importance of the time that is going by. Emily leaves that day and takes her place in the graveyard. She will no longer wish to go back in time. It just is too sad that we waste all those precious moments.
  1. Sukkot reminds us that the days are indeed getting shorter. Not just in terms of the hours of sunlight and darkness, but that winter is coming, a year has gone by. We find ourselves asking hard questions. What have I done with the time I was given last year? Did I use that time to grow? Did I take a class; spend quality time with people I love, try something new that I always wanted to try? There are some people here today who already bemoan a lost youth, where they failed to accomplish all they had wanted to do. Now we are too old. Now we are too slow. Now we are too weak. We are wiser, but some of us are physically unable to fulfill our dreams. The passing of another year makes us sad.
  1. Who would want to look back on a year like that? It is better to close our eyes to the passing of time and spend the empty hours watching television as if it will make a difference in our lives and meeting with friends so we can talk about trivial things so we don’t have to think about all the time we have wasted. We don’t want to think about the passing days, the months, the years; we rush from place to place avoiding having to confront ourselves.
  1. Sukkot tells us to slow down. It tells us to go outside and take in the world around us. Watch the sunset. Look at the sky at night through the open roof of the Sukkah. When we wave a lulav, it is as if we have become a tree and we can feel what it is like to be pushed around by the gentle breeze. We eat the fruits of the season, enjoying and savoring the flavor of a summer that is ending and we prepare for the winter that will come. Maybe our winters in Florida are not so cold, not so hard that we worry about the weather. Perhaps we treasure the cooler weather after the brutally hot summer. Our friends from up north come down. We wonder if they will be healthy enough to make the trip this year.
  1. Sukkot teaches us that there are no more excuses about getting in touch with our lives. All year long we condition the air in our home to make us more comfortable. We eat foods grown all over the world, no longer tied to seasons, rain and famine. Our electricity pushes back the darkness, powers our entertainment systems and cooks our delicious meals. Only when Sukkot comes do we remember what live was like before these modern conveniences. We say that we will live, for just a few days, as our ancestors did when they traveled through the desert on their way to the Promised Land. We pause to recall our ancestors, living of their land and thanking God for the bounty of the harvest and the certainty that there would be enough food for the winter and for the spring beyond.
 
  1. After the introspection of our lives during the High Holy Days, we need this time to think about the passing of time and if we are passing on the right lessons to our children and grandchildren. Have we made them sensitive to filling each of their minutes with sixty seconds of worthy activities?  Have we showed them how to use the time they have wisely and to treasure every moment of every day.  All too soon tragedy can strike, so we have to take advantage of the good times while we can. I have discovered working with seniors over the years that age is only a limitation if we let it limit our lives. That it is never too late to learn something new. It is never too late to take a class, to teach a class or to see an old situation in a new light. Every June we find someone in their seventies or eighties who has finally receiving the college degree they always wanted. Scientists tell us that it is never too late to start lifting weights and exercising. Everyone can benefit from a healthy lifestyle, no matter what their age.
 
  1. No matter if the holidays are early or late, now is the time to pay attention to the passing of time and to resolve again to use the time we have left to the best of our abilities. A legacy can be more than just money and property that we leave behind after we have died. A legacy can be learned by our children from watching how we use our time so they will see just how priceless time can be. These days of Sukkot help us to come to terms with our lives, to face the realities of our environment and ask the hard questions about who we are and where we going and if we are going in a direction that our loved ones approve and our God approves. 
  1. We may not be able to control if our days are passing too quickly or if they are dragging forward painfully slow.  All we can do is live each moment as if it really counts. All we can do is to make the most of the time we have and not squander the gift of time that we have been given. As we sit in the Sukkah this year, let us face the future proudly and live each moment honorably and lovingly. 
May God help us use every minute wisely and may the passage of time always be for a blessing as we say, Amen and Hag Sameach
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