Sunday, October 12, 2008

Gimme Shelter

It's almost the "Feast of Tabernacles," the Jewish holiday of Sukkot. It's called "the season of our rejoicing," as God has allowed us to clear our slates at Yom Kippur, and now, by constructing a booth in our back yard where we take all our meals and spend as much time as we can, we show our confidence that God provides our true shelter.

We have eight days of holiday, the first two and last two being full-out "yom tov," days when, like Shabbat, we stop work and any creative activity. The big difference from the Sabbath for families like us who are hosting guests in our succa is that we can cook via the transfer of flame. The intermediate days of the festival are less restrictive but still a notch more special than non-holidays.

This year we enter the festive week more acutely aware of our vulnerability, which is a theme of Sukkot. Our backyard booths, covered by cut branches--in the northwest, fir--have roofs whose formerly-living, water-filled organic matter evoke the "clouds of glory" that protected the Jews in their historic wanderings in the wilderness prior to entry in the Promised Land. In the wilderness, the Jews were dependent on God for everything, from their manna food to the miraculous repair of their clothing, to their climate-controlled environments. The message? After being forgiven our sins, we must not get too cocky and assume our own amenities are any less from God.

With the stock market tumbling, the government scrambling, voters confused, disenchanted and seeking change, we are all feeling vulnerable.

It makes me anxious. Not only is national finance teetering, but so are institutions that have been the bedrock of civilization. Connecticut, in a 4-3 judicial ruling Thursday that cannot be appealed, will begin allowing gay marriages October 28. The decision written by Judge Richard Palmer held that civil unions violate equal protection clauses, a whopper of a difference from the rulings (also each by one judge's vote) that brought gay marriage to Massachusetts and California. This is a precedent whose domino effect could destroy the essential character of marriage, and yet with news dominated by an election maelstrom and financial chaos, received yawning coverage and little comment.

Yes, it's the economy, stupid, and stupid we are, most folk parroting buzzwords like "subprime mortgage" and "fannie mae and freddie mac" without really understanding what's going on. Derivitives? Hedge funds? Can you clearly define them? Yet most people are willing to blame Bush for it all, forgetting that we were in a huge boom just last October, and it's only since Democrats controlled both houses of Congress that suddenly those "subprimes" and "fannie and freddie" caused Wall Street collapse. In fact, in the last presidential debates, "Wall Street" was used as a synonym for "greed and corruption."

It's just not that simple.

And so, with much insecurity, we move to our succa. I personally could use a dose of emuna, faith in God. I can't say that sitting in the succa for meals provides it for me, frankly. But serving our guests, observing this time together as a family, noting the colder nights and threatening rain does remind me that political and financial issues are, like most everything, temporal. This, too, shall pass, and so being anxious about it serves no purpose at all.

Chag Sameach--a happy, meaningful Sukkot--and may we all take refuge in the most significant kind of shelter.


  1. Hi my friend! I love the picture of the sukka as it brings SO many fond memories...I'm thankful for another year for all of us despite the tumultuous times. Hugs to all, especially you!

  2. Your blog provides such a valuable service by educating me about these holy days. I know about Hannukah and Purim mostly because they coincide with Christmas and St. Patrick's, and because of memorable skits on Saturday Night Live from years back, but these harvest feasts are really quite beautiful. Does this holy day require a First Borns' Fast? Thank you and Chag Sameach.