Thoughts on the spiritual purification of fasting, and sincerely complimenting our children for the things they do very well.
To My Dear Sons:
As you know, Sukkot is my favorite time of year. I love the autumn; my birthday falls during this period (pun intended); the simplicity of dwelling in a little hut outside my house delights me; we’ve just gone through the Spiritual Dry Cleaner of Yom Kippur, and I’m feeling sparkly-clean. (If there’s anyone whose feelings I’ve hurt to whom I have not apologized, tell me quick, so I can make amends and keep this nice, squeaky-clean feeling.)
One of you asked me recently why we have to be hungry on Yom Kippur to elevate ourselves. We debated several possible reasons; but I think the one that will resonate best for you comes from Rabbi Dr. Jonathan Sacks, the former chief rabbi of the UK.
He says (much more eloquently, and with a British accent) that we cannot possibly live a life of striving toward spiritual excellence without feeling very, very depressed about how badly we fail at achieving our goals. The guilt of our poor attempt would completely debilitate us.
What is the solution? One day a year, we are allowed to “afflict” ourselves, by going without food (as well as certain other comforts). When we suffer hunger pangs for a day which is otherwise filled with confession, deep introspection, and communion with G-d, we can finally allow ourselves to walk away at the end of the day feeling that we have wiped our slate clean of all of the bad things that we have done.
We can allow G-d to forgive us, to give us one more chance to improve.
So here we are on the other side of that fasting and penalty-paying and prayer. If we follow the prescription handed down by our Sages, we feel very good, rather than guilty.
I am incredibly grateful for this gift, for without it, I don’t know how I could walk upright.
And I am grateful for you, and this is a good time to tell you.
- Thank you for showing me that it was a good idea to raise husbands for my daughters-in-law rather than perpetual sons for myself.
- Thank you for never making fun of the way I speak Hebrew, and instead encouraging me.
- Thank you for caring what I think about your projects, your goals, your girl friends. (And thank you for appreciating that I leave the choices pretty much up to you.)
- Thank you for the “little” things, like taking your young, strong bodies to the back of the bus, so that elderly or pregnant people don’t have to clumsily challenge gravity for too long while the vehicle is in motion.
- And for not leaving your trash all over G-d’s very Holy Land.
- And for taking pride in being independent, in being able to navigate pretty much on your own this new and confusing country.
- And thank you for helping your parents navigate it as well!
- To those of you who are far away – thank you for keeping us up to date, via technology, with the important changes in your lives, and the lives of your wives and children!
Enjoy your well-earned rest in the sukkah. Each of you has added so much to my life, and to your dear Abba’s life.
May your children bless you with at least as much “Yiddishe nachas” (Jewish parental pride) as you have given your father and me!
Chag Sukkot sameach.