Succot, The Time of the Season for Loving: The Remedy for Anxiety
V’haser mimenu yagon va’anacha / Remove sorrow and anxiety from us.
From the Hashiva prayer of the weekday Amidah
Anacha shoveret chatzi gufo shel adam / Anxiety can break a person in half.
Talmud Bavli, Mesechet Brachot 56b
Al tirah mipachad pitom / Have no fear of sudden terror.
Mishley (Proverbs) 3:25
Gadol ha’oseh me’ahavah yoter min ha’oseh mi’yirah / The one who acts out of love is greater than the one who acts out of fear.
Talmud Bavli, Mesechet Sota 31
Al kol p’shayim t’kaseh ahavah / Love covers any transgression.
Mishley (Proverbs) 10:12
It’s the time of the season
When love runs high
In this time, give it to me easy
And let me try with pleasured hands
To take you in the sun to promised lands
To show you every one
It’s the time of the season for loving
“Time of the Season,” by Rod Argent from the Zombies album Odessey and Oracle
As we were preparing for the Yomin HaNariyim, the High Holidays, all of us were most likely highly distracted by the events happening in the world around us. Hamas had started another round of terrorist rocket attacks against Israel. Israel’s carefully measured response was presented by much of the media in a very twisted manner, which made it appear as if it was an aggressor Israel that was tormenting the Hamas-controlled Palestinians. Ugly editorials appeared in the mainstream press that bordered on open anti-Semitism. In Europe thousands of the descendants of those who stood by and watched six million Jews be murdered in the Holocaust took to the streets to condemn Israel’s self-defense and demonstrate support for the terrorists of Hamas. It is only now in the aftermath of a “ceasefire” imposed upon Israel allowing Hamas to survive that the truth is now quietly admitted that Israel was not at fault and that Hamas had put its own captive civilians intentionally in harm’s way. While all this was unfolding, a new flashy, media-savvy, and incredibly violent Islamic terror group known by a number of names, ISIS, ISIL, or Islamic State, took center stage as it took over portions of Iraq and Syria, murdered thousands, and beheaded American and British journalists (one of whom was Jewish). Of course these terrorists also have an eventual goal of “liberating” Palestine and murdering Jews when they would set up their anticipated Islamic caliphate.
It is then no surprise that many in the Jewish community are filled with anxiety these days. Succot, however, is a paradigm for transcending this fear and anxiety and to instead be filled with love and enthusiasm.
Succot, of course, has its roots in our deep past when it was a typical aboriginal harvest festival. In those days, Succot was the season for loving. Food, something which was very often scarce, was plentiful, as grain was harvested in abundance, fruits and vegetables were at their peak of juicy, sweet ripeness, and even that scarcest luxury, meat, was available for all, as the excess male animals were culled from the herds and flocks and brought as sacrifices to be grilled and feasted on by all in religious celebration. The weather was pleasant. Unlike the scorching, sweltering summer or the wet, chilly winter, the season lent itself to a bucolic restfulness in the evening. Following the harvest and feast, one could bed down in a rickety, temporary shelter where the stars would glimmer and glitter through the boughs and branches of the roof. Caressed by a cool refreshing breeze, one could doze off with a full belly, satiated and secure. This plentitude and pleasure, of course, led to romance between celebrants, and many marriages and pregnancies occurred. It was the season for loving.
In later historical times, Succot was infused with new meaning. As the nation of Israel took on a unique identity of monotheism that necessitated emphasizing differences from the surrounding related western Semitic peoples, Succot was connected with the origin myth of Israel. The sukkah, the little “Love Shack,” that once simply temporarily housed celebrating harvesters, now became another symbol for the exodus from Egypt that gave a unique identity to the people of Israel. The sukkah was a stand-in for both the temporary dwellings the wandering Israelites were to have lived in during their migration and the Ananay HaKovod, the miraculous clouds that protected them and guided them during the day in their traversing the wilderness. The sukkah came to be a symbol of security and trust in God’s protection.
Today, we can mine our rich history and utilize the sukkah to also lift us from anxiety over the happenings throughout the world. As we emerge energized from our inspirational services on Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur, on Succot upon entering the sukkah we can be reminded that we are a part of creation and we can see ourselves as partners with God in protecting and improving our world, both the natural world and the people and creatures that inhabit it. We can be thankful and enjoy the feelings of freedom and security that we enjoy as American Jews. We can be thankful that by creating an environment of intellectual freedom and scientific inquiry, the State of Israel through the use of advanced technology has the means to protect its people, both Jew and Arab, from the atavistic belligerence of their xenophobic adversaries. Most importantly, we can come to understand that everything in our physical world is temporary, like the cycle of the changing seasons, and that we are here but for a short time and therefore should joyously dedicate ourselves to using our life energies to making a more beautiful world. Do we want to leave the world to the likes of Hamas and ISIL, who want to create a world of ugliness and hatred? No, we need to reject anxiety and instead counter the ugliness with our positive and fearless energy to dedicatedly build a world of beauty and love. We know the answer—it’s the time of the season for loving.
B’Shalom, Chag Samayach!!