- Posted by Elaine Zecher
- On October 21, 2016
- 0 Comments
Welcome again to Shabbat Awakenings, a weekly reflection as we move toward Shabbat.
How is it possible to demand an emotion?
Just because Sukkot ushers in z’man simchateinu “the season of our joy,” and Deuteronomy commands usmachtem, “you shall rejoice in this festival,” does it mean we have to be happy?
Happiness can be quite elusive. It is not a guarantee.
Perhaps this may have been one of the reasons the ancient rabbis designated that we read from the Biblical book, Kohelet, translated as Ecclesiastes, during the holiday of Sukkot. It isn’t actually a joyful story but rather an analysis of the value of living life and whether life has any worth at all. Tradition attributes authorship to King Solomon at the end of his life but scholars have proved otherwise. The book is part of the wisdom literature of the Bible.
Kohelet comes to a single conclusion about everything. The book uses the Hebrew word, hevel, which has been translated as senseless, futile, ephemeral, and even incomprehensible, all of which sound very depressing. The author, however, does not leave us sitting in the dark with the lights out.
In one of the more famous passages is the list that there is a “season set for everything, a time for every experience under heaven: A time for being born and a time for dying…A time for weeping and a time for laughing, A time for wailing and a time for dancing…” (3:1-8) The author asks, “What value, then, can the person of affairs get from what he earns?” (3:9) And then concludes: “Thus I realized that the only worthwhile thing there is for them is to enjoy themselves and do what is good in their lifetime; also, that whenever a person does eat and drink and get enjoyment out of all his wealth, it is a gift of God.”(3:12-13)
The rabbis of the Mishnah generations later would ask a similar question: “Who is wealthy? And answers: “The one who is happy with his or her portion” (Pirkei Avot 4:1)
Taken together, these two sources provide a pathway toward happiness. Though we may feel many of life’s challenges, question its ephemeral nature, or wonder about what we have, we are actually in charge of our own happiness.
So, we sit in a fragile Sukkah during this festival and discover our own strength and ability to appreciate the gifts we receive in life from God. And though it may not make us happy automatically, it opens a beautiful possibility for how we may celebrate this joyous holiday.
Please come celebrate Shabbat together and join us for Qabbalat Shabbat with plenty of singing, learning, praying and thinking.
Please feel free to connect with me here. I would be honored to learn of your own reflections and response. I’m grateful to the many people who have already shared their thoughts with me in this way.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach!