William Hamilton


Memoirist Tara Westover has said,“If you’re comfortable having weaknesses, a lot of good things can come into your life.” Perhaps you don’t speak-up as often as you wish you did, especially when courage matters. Maybe you let your anger get the better of you. If you’re like me, you get impatient with yourself for realizing what you should have done, after it’s too late. 

Being comfortable with your weaknesses isn’t about surrender. It’s rather about candor and firm-footing. It’s also about saving some compassion for yourself. A teaspoon of self-compassion, such a helping, enables you to build a better life. That is, a life that finds you more comfortable in your own skin, more able to flourish. 

Human flourishing may feel remote these days. The rough-and-tumble of online life, alongside news-feeds that gush with fear and falsehood, make steady-ground hard to find. 

Enter the Festival of Sukkot’s biblical scroll, Ecclesiastes. It actually specializes in disillusion. The author has a good eye for futility. A generation comes, then goes, and nothing gets better. Although it does encourage pauses for joy, the arc of the book is bleak. It suggests that history spins in circles.

Years ago, the song-writer Pete Seeger tried to put a positive spin on one of its passages. “To everything (turn, turn, turn) there is a season (turn, turn, turn) and a time to every purpose under heaven”(Ch. 3:1-8). A time for hate will give way to a time for love. 

Perhaps he was channeling a Sukkot Festival practice of circle-dancing. The circle-dance, sometimes known as the Hora, was founded on Sukkot, when willow-branches were danced around the Temple Altar (Mishna Sukkah 4:5) Dancing in circles builds energy and connection. It does even more. It transforms emotion. Perhaps it was founded on Sukkot to offset Ecclesiastes. Or at least, to map a path for us to climb up and out of it.

If you’ve ever been sitting quietly in a corner of a room, feeling sullen. What happens to you when somebody waves you over or pulls you into a circle dance? After a few times around, your emotional energy lifts. Your sadness is transformed into excitement. When your emotional-life is at a standstill, or when you’re struggling with a weakness, such buoying is like a heaping-teaspoon of self-compassion.

Consider joining a circle-dance if you can in the concluding joy-filled days of Sukkot for your own good and for the good of those who invite you to dance.

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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