Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Fear and Joy

"Trust in G-d and do the good". So says the verse in Tehilim. We might ask, what's the connection between the two? Why do we need to trust in Hashem in order to do the good?

Truth is that if we knew how vulnerable we are, how precarious our existence, we might never find the motivation to do anything of consequence. Its not surprising that braveness typically belongs to the young. Its the young who feel invincible. Its the young who feel no real harm can befall them. They are the ones who are typically ready to be the heroes. The older we get the more we are cognizant of our mortality and the more we are afraid.

Most of us live our lives as if we are never going to die. How else can we explain the fact that we smoke, eat the unhealthy, grow fat, without hardly a protest. And if that's true of the way we engage matters that affect us physically, how much more so the matters that affect our soul. We sin as if we will never have to face a judgement.

Intellectually, of course we know that we will die. We know that we are frail creatures only a moment away from cancer, G-d forbid, or a stroke or sudden debacle. We know that while we are not Job, his story could just as well be ours. But we also know that being fully conscious of the fear of our vulnerability and at all times will paralyze us. We know the fear of our mortality can be overwhelming. In an act of self-preservation we put it out of our minds. It is putting the awareness of our vulnerability out of our minds that makes living possible. It gives us the ability to invest in life, to marry, to raise children, to strive to make a difference.

And yet at the same time that escaping the reality of our mortality makes living possible it also compromises that life. In our unconscious state we can commit self and other destructive acts. We can cause ourselves the greatest of harm, commit the most serious of sins, all because we live as if we will not die.

And so we are left with a conundrum. To submerge the awareness of our frailty seems necessary in order to invest in the act of living. Yet to fail to be at all times conscious that we indeed can die or be rendered useless and at any moment, leaves us open to sin caused by the illusion of our invincibility. How indeed to live?

It is the Yom Tov of Sukkot that provides us with the answer to this powerful life paradox. At one level Sukkot is the holiday of joy. It stands premier of all the festivals in that we are mandated to be "only happy". The simchat bait hashoaiva, the joyous celebration of the water drawing in the Temple of old continues to be lived out symbolically during all the days of the chag. Its the harvest time. Yet Sukkot, this holiday of confidence and joy, asks us to leave our homes and go for seven days to live in the sukkah, the frail hut like structure that leaves us vulnerable to the elements. On the very holiday that invites us to celebrate the bounty of life and all its promise we are also mandated to fully engage the truth of how precarious our existence. We are called to face the fact that no resources in the world make us any more safe than we are in the sukkah.

The sukkah for seven days is our home. We are called to live there in the fullest manner possible. We eat, sleep, and converse in the sukkah. We are called to bring out into the sukkah our nicest dishes and finest foods. This is not a camping experience. This is where we live. And we are meant to live in this temporary residence as if it was permanent.

Ah, there it is. The mitzva of sukkah calls on us to live in a temporary residence as if it is permanent. The very challenge of our lives, to live in a temporary residence as if it were permanent.

We do not make believe the sukkah is a palace. When it rains we leave. It's a sukkah after all. And when we are compromised inside it we don't artificially make it stronger. We face the reality and adapt. And yet knowing full well it is indeed a sukkah we nonetheless invest in it. We live in it with permanence. And we do that not because the sukkah is not a sukkah but because we have trust in Hashem that He will do what He needs to even as we do what we need to.
"B'tach b'Hashem v'asai tov" "trust in Hashem and do the good".

Sukkot teaches us to neither deny the reality that life is incredibly fragile nor to flee from fear of investing in it because of that fragility. Sukkot teaches us that we can honestly confront the truth of existence and yet be happy. And the key is trust in Hashem. The trust doesn't mean that I know I will not face circumstances beyond my control. The trust allows me to surrender control and know I am safe no matter what occurs to me.

Anne Frank in her diary wrote "The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature and G-d. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that G-d wishes to see people happy".

In going out to the Sukkah we walk into our fears rather than flee from them. We say "yes" to all life's uncertainties...and with that we say "Yes" to life and living. All because as young Anne Frank, herself to be murdered by the Nazis, knew, "G-d wishes to see people happy".

Vsmachat b'chagecha, May we know the fullness of joy this wonderful holiday...not because we have escaped our realities but because we have entered them and with trust in and surrender to Hashem vanquished their power over us.

Chag Sameyach
Shabbat Shalom

1 comment:

  1. Hi! It's really nice. It remindes me of the suspension between the abolitioning of a 'Yetzer' and the things you lose when it's abolitioned. Like with the 'Yetzer of Avoda Zara' that with its cancelation, came the cancelation of the 'Nevuah', and with the 'Yetzer of Min' it couldn't work, because cancelation of this 'Ytzer', ment cancelation of the will to bring children and therefore to a risk to the Humanity existence. Thank you and 'Chag Shameach'.