25 Sep 2015

Ha’azinu – Succot 5776: Eternal Moments

Ha’azinu-Succot 5776: Eternal Moments

“To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.”

― William Blake, Auguries of Innocence
Succot comes at a time of year when the world’s northern hemisphere begins its move into the dormancy of winter. The sun’s rays do not radiate with the heat of summer that nourishes us and powers the vibrancy of the earth’s flora and fauna. The leaves of the trees change colour, shrivel and fall as life’s transience is prominently displayed before us.

This is autumn, the season of endings. Traditionally, humanity has marked autumn’s curtain call of nature’s produce with the macabre. With festivals like Halloween or Dia de los Muertos, the world’s autumnal rites tend to include the Grim Reaper himself. Our Succot is different but not as different as one might think. Succot is also called Hag HaAsif – literally the ‘Reaping Holiday’. That word, אסיף – asif, is used in Torah to mean death[1]. Curiously though, Succot differs from the dark festivals that are celebrated by others around this time. Although it does deal with endings, it sees them in a more positive light. It is the one festival of our year that is meant to be the very essence of joy and happiness.

Rejoice on your festival! … For seven days you are to celebrate …and you shall be only joyful! (Deut., 16:14-15)

Succot moves us to see the fleeting nature of our lives as the very element that provides meaning; and in the discovery of that meaning we find joy. Knowing that every minute will come to an end and that our lives are finite makes the days we live utterly unique. One’s whole life becomes irreplaceable and in knowing this every day is a priceless opportunity; every life is made precious beyond measure. We focus on the transience of life on Succot and see in it the preciousness of the singular moments that it creates.

In perashat Ha’azinu, we read of the ‘gathering’ or asifa of Moshe’s life. It is often read before the gathering festival of Succot.

You are to die on the mountain that you are ascending, and are to be gathered to your kinspeople, as Aharon your brother died on Hor haHar and was gathered to his kinspeople. (32:50)

Before his departure he encouraged the fledgling nation to contemplate years gone by and to realise that it is the investment of our present that quality is determined.

Regard the days of ages past, understand the years of generations and generations (ago).… (32:7)

Our people have survived more change and loss than any other nation on earth. We have been taught a different way to deal with the temporary circumstances of life. While we well know that nothing lasts forever, it is a mistake not to invest all we have into the moments while they happen around us. The deeper we invest, the richer the reality and the more precious and powerful the eternity that it creates. Succot is the festival in which we practice this. In its laws and customs we practice joyful living.

We employ great efforts in order to build a succa only to take it all down seven days later. While the Torah requires that a succa be a temporary structure we nonetheless are required to sit in one as if it is a permanent dwelling[2]. To fulfil the commandment properly we are meant to use our best dishes and place settings in the succa rather than disposable ones and we are meant to spend as much time in the succa as we would in our permanent home.

We relate to the transient succa as as an expression of the transience of life. As time flows past us, we can either watch from afar or we can be consciously present in the moment as it comes before us and gracefully allow it to pass as it takes its place in the treasury of eternity.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Joseph Dweck


[1] Gen., 25:8; 25:17; 35:29; 49:33; Deut., 32:50.

[2] Succa, 26a

[3] Lev., 23:40