08 Oct 2014

Succot 5775: Here Today…

A story is told in the Talmud[1] of Rabbi Eliezer, who had fallen ill. Rabbi Yohanan went to visit him and he noticed that Rabbi Eliezer was crying. Rabbi Yohanan asked why he was crying, and Rabbi Eliezer responded “I am crying over your beauty that will one day be swallowed by the earth”. The despair that Rabbi Eliezer felt over the transience of beauty has also filled the thoughts and writings of the world’s greatest philosophers and poets. The fact is, however, that all will die; our loved ones, our sun, our earth, our universe. Yet, human beings curiously refuse to accept the fleeting nature of life as normal. Somewhere, deep in our hearts we know that eternity is a reality and that the impermanence of the love and beauty that we know in this world is a violation of what existence should be.

On Succot we focus on the reality of life’s transience. We build a temporary dwelling, the succah, and we live our lives for 7 days in a place that is inherently provisional. But it is especially when we face life’s impermanence that we feel most profoundly that, as Freud wrote,[2] the “loveliness must be able to persist and to escape all the powers of destruction”. Facing the fleeting beauties of life we have two choices of response: we can throw ourselves into the moments as we have them, and we can feel completely, love intensely, act enthusiastically and experience totally, the radiance of the present. We can do so even with an undercurrent of sadness, knowing all the while that it will not last and the pain of saying goodbye will come. Or we can stand back and embrace the creed of “no attachment”, pretending not to care and not to feel in fear that we will one day have to feel the pain of letting go.

On Succot, as a people, we choose the former, and we pour our hearts into the temporary, filling it with hard work and love. We take a fruit and greens from the earth that will barely last the 7 days, and we rejoice amidst the evanescence knowing that with those focused experiences we are crafting our eternal lives. There is no way to get around the fleeting nature of our world — with every passing moment we experience another death. Yet, with each ending, sacred closure is created which gives birth to a unique eternity that emerges from it all. Knowing this, we resolve on Succot to, in the words of Dylan Thomas, “rage against the dying of the light”, and in doing so, our joy is born out of our absolute demand for, and embracing of, eternity.

Moadim LeSimha,

Rabbi Joseph Dweck

[1] Berakhot, 5b

[2] Essay “On Transience” http://www.freuds-requiem.com/transience.html