My mother always used to tell me that it was better leave a party before you wanted to. "Leave while it's still fun" she would say, "and you'll have loved every minute you were there." I always thought that was a rationalization for wanting me home at a decent hour, but I think, as in many things, she was right. We are now awaiting the last three days of what will be, in September and this week of October, ELEVEN days of limited activity and expected entertaining. OH - and religious services, of course: Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and the first and then final days of Sukkot. All of which fell on Thursday and Friday. Leading into Saturday. Which is the Sabbath. SO. No TV. No phones. No computers. No e-mail even. No cooking for many of those days and ONLY for the day in question the rest of those days.
Remember, these are very holy days, too. You have to be sure to keep that in your mind; go to services and try to connect. Our services are very uplifting and moving; we're there all day and there's lots of singing and shared emotion. You really know you've been praying and it's a time when it's easier to connect with one's faith (at least for me.)
It also means, however, that on Rosh Hashanah (the New Year) there was dinner Wednesday night, Thursday night and Friday night and lunch on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. On Yom Kippur, a fast day, there was just preparation of a meal the night before. That's 7 meals. We got through this fine - hosting three meals; and going to others for the other four. It was a lot of cooking and enormous anxiety but it all was in the service of sharing and honoring these remarkable holidays with those we care about; our older son and his girl friend were even there for part of it; all worked out well.
So where's the BUT? You know there's one coming. Well, five days later we hit Sukkot -- the holiday where you have to eat outside in a "booth" (you can see the commandment here and an explanation at the bottom of this post)-- to commemorate the Jewish people's time living in booths in the desert during the Exodus. That's ours in the photo (undecorated because I can't take photos on the holidays when it IS all set up.) Again, two meals for two days at the beginning running into the Sabbath and two more at the end next week running into ANOTHER Sabbath. AND you have people over the in the days in between too, at least a little bit.
Most people I think are exhausted - hardly any have issued meal invitations although I hosted one lunch last Friday and we went to another family for dinner. That still left three of the five uninvited. That's as stressful as cooking for the ones we host. Where were we going - who was going where we weren't? Why did it matter? What about praying - why is this temporal stuff on our minds at all?
I have to admit it bothers me a little; others I know are supremely troubled by it. I feel like such a whiny little brat. Here we are just celebrating our third year as active participants in this life and almost into our third living in this community - having gained and learned so much - and I'm complaining. It's so not what faith is supposed to be about but it's still a real issue - especially when you haven't been doing this long.
This is the first year we've really hosted people in our Sukkah and so we wanted all to be just right; mostly we have done great except for those invitation gaps. I'm disappointed about that. And I'm ashamed of us for caring at all. These holidays are supposed to bring us closer to God but after seven days with three more coming all I feel close to is exhaustion. I've spoken to many friends about this; the women, upon whom the cooking seems to fall, are more pissed but the guys are also tired. Everyone is a little cranky. (My husband suggests that he is both tired AND cranky and the one doing most of the "taking inventory.") That's probably true but it's contagious!
Worst of all, it's so anticlimactic. I wish you could have been with us on Yom Kippur. This holy day, which I had always experienced as solemn and sad, is, in our synagogue, a day of happiness. We are there because of the gift of repentance, we are participating in a service that is thousands of years old, the music is just extraordinary and the ritual moving and humbling. The young doctor who leads our service is profoundly spiritual and an amazing musician - here's a sample of my favorite.
; I call him the Bruce Springsteen of prayer because of the energy and depth he offers us, and we leave uplifted and inspired.
So maybe the rapid slide into STILL MORE holiday after something so profound robs us of the full celebration of our Yom Kippur prayers - cutting off our feelings from that day but, as I write this, perhaps reminding us that one day's repentance isn't going to carry us through the year - or even the week - and that we must continue to try to find ways to follow our faith each moment, not just revel in past moments of spiritual ascendance. And I guess each emotion is a brick in the road to where ever we're bound - this though is certainly not one I'm proud of.
***One rabbi explains: THE SUKKA reminds us of Israel's honeymoon with God in the hostile desert (of cruel history-- there must be more shade than sun in the sukka), and of Divine clouds hovering over them (= eventual redemption; stars must be visible thru the sukka roof-- Rav Riskin); God's protection against forces of evil, when the Jews seem most vulnerable (e.g. 1948, 1991 and Purim), climaxes in the pre- Messianic battles of our Haftarot. Then God will raise up David's fallen "sukka"-- the 3rd Temple, preceded by the rediscovered tabernacle. Discomfort, e.g. rain, exempts one from Sukka-- but those truly great stay, experiencing no discomfort when surrounded by God's glory (The Berditchever). The sukka is a symbol of peace, for it is open-- to the elements of nature, to the heavens above and, foremost, to guests, far and near (Rav Avigdor Hacohen). As we invite guests to our sukka, not only do we do a good deed of kindness and spread holiday cheer, but we also imitate God Himself, the Ultimate Model Host, Who constantly feeds, clothes and houses all His creatures; we thus develop our own Divine Image.