WEDNESDAY, October 4th
On Wednesday night we mark the beginning of Sukkot, often referred to as zman simchaseinu, the season of our joy. It can feel dissonant to speak of the season of our joy after a season during which we’ve seen three major hurricanes wreak destruction on our country, with the territory of Puerto Rico hardest hit and facing a long and difficult recovery, a season in which we’ve seen white supremacists openly and proudly march in the streets of an American city while chanting “Jews will not replace us,” a season in which only this week we saw a heavily armed shooter kill more than 50 people and injure ten times more in Las Vegas.
With so much to grieve for, how can we speak of a season of joy?
It is no accident that zman simchaseinu is a holiday when we sleep outside in a hut that lets in the rain and the wind and the cold and the heat. One of the lessons of Sukkot is that simcha (joy) doesn’t come from being safe and comfortable. Simcha isn’t the absence of pain or discomfort or even sadness, rather it is an emotion that can live alongside these experiences. I remember once saying goodbye to a close friend, whom I knew I might never see again. As I bid them farewell with tears in my eyes, I felt deep sorrow, but at the same time, I felt a kind of joyful gratitude that I could love someone so deeply. Not every grief is accompanied by joy in this way, but I bring the example to illustrate that we can feel joy and sorrow at the same time or in close proximity. What we cannot do is numb ourselves to grief, without numbing ourselves to joy as well. Dwelling in the sukkah, where we are vulnerable to the elements, reminds us that experiencing deep joy requires an openness to feelings and experiences that might be less pleasant as well.
The more we try to shut out or ignore the things that are frightening and scary, the more we close ourselves off to what’s really happening around us – the more we cut ourselves off from profound joy. At this season of simcha, I encourage each of us to give ourselves permission to be sad over the very real tragedies in our country, in our world, and in our own personal lives. Making room for sorrow and grief does not prevent us from experiencing joy—just the opposite: it can actually open us up to more opportunities for real simcha.
Rabbi Garth Silberstein