It was in what now feels like a faraway universe that our nation and all of our inhabitants were so busy that a movement began – it was called the “opt out movement”. Its goal: To reject the culture of busyness that used to be pervasive. In an interview on “On Being”, Omid Saf shared a story that will you remind you of how things USED to be and perhaps it will make you mindful of a blessing of this moment of time:
Saf shared: “ I saw a dear friend a few days ago. I stopped by to ask her how she was doing, how her family was. She looked up, voice lowered, and shared: “I’m so busy…I am so busy. .. have so much going on.” Almost immediately after, I ran into another friend and asked him how he was. Again, same tone, same response: “I’m just so busy… got so much to do.” [Adults. Kids. everyone. So busy.] How did we end up living like this? Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we do this to our children? What happened to a world in which we can sit with the people we love so much and have slow conversations about the state of our heart and soul, conversations that slowly unfold, conversations with pregnant pauses and silences that we are in no rush to fill? How did we create a world in which we have more and more and more to do with less time for leisure, less time for reflection, less time for community, less time to just… be?
He then went on to share that in Persia, when you want to ask someone how they’re doing, you ask: How is your haal? The haal is the transient state of one’s heart. So, in essence what you ask someone is “How is your heart doing at this very moment, at this breath?” When we ask, “How are you? That is really what we want to know. Not how many things are on your to-do list, or how many unanswered messages are in your inbox….Tell me [instead] – that your heart is joyous, tell me your heart is aching, tell me your heart is sad, tell me your heart craves a human touch. Examine your own heart, explore your soul, and then… share with me a conversation filled with grace and presence.” In telling me something about your heart, you will awaken my heart and help me to remember that I too am a full and complete human being.”
Isn’t that beautiful?!? Reconsidering this story reminds me of the blessing of a world that is a bit less busy. A bit more present. A bit more connected. And a bit more reflective. A bit more real. And a lot more aware of our own fragility and vulnerability. As Sukkot quickly approaches, I am yet again unsure of what to expect. This year we will build a sukkah and have few, if any guests, that will be invited to enter. We will decorate only for us. We will plan to leave our home, to sleep under the stars for a night or two, to eat in the fresh air, and to be reminded that while many things have been lost to us and while there is much to miss about how things used to be, there are also beautiful blessings: Our world has slowed down and that was something that most of us have been yearning for for years, and while Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur gave us the opportunities to reflect on and reconsider our lives, clean up relationships that were messy, practice new ways of being, and begin anew, Sukkot invites us to do something different: To be joyful!
For some of us, that might be easier said than done. It’s hard to be joyful when your spirits are down, or you’re overwhelmed or fearful or anxious or lonely. But that’s going to be what we strive for this week: JOY!
To help get you there, the Soul Center will be hosting a special evening on Thursday night, called “The Booth”. There will be 6 people who will be telling a story about “the time that they saw stars” (each story will be about 6 minutes long). Some will make you laugh, one might make you cry, and each one will help you feel connected to someone and something bigger than yourself. So make yourself a hot cider (pour some bourbon or fireball in if that’ll bring you some extra joy) or a mug of hot cocoa or a glass of wine – and hop on with us. It’ll be a night that’ll help you feel joyful.
And whether or not you put up a sukkah, whether or not you’ll be with family or a friend or experiencing the holiday solo, here is my sukkot challenge: Find a way to experience joy. Any way you can. And delight in it.
Wishing you all a chag sameach – a happy and joyful Sukkot!
Rabbi Dana Saroken and of course, Rachel Siegal and Julie Hettleman