For a variety of reasons — not the least of which was an ongoing remodel at our home that had turned the usual sukkah location into a construction site — our sukkah remained unassembled, stashed in a pile of unwieldy nylon bags in the garage.
So much for dinners al fresco in our very own desert dwelling, its roof open to the heavens, its fragile walls gently swaying in the wind. So much for the frisson of excitement as Mother Nature asserted her power with a sudden shower or a strong gust that would topple our temporary home.
No festive gatherings of friends, no time for relaxed conversation, for catching up, for simply enjoying the pleasure of each other’s company around a festive holiday table.
Next year in Phoenix, I consoled myself, and hopped a plane to New York to visit our kids and grands.
But Sukkos is wherever you find it, sukkahs all around if you just take a look. The temporary huts commemorating the ancient Israelites’ desert trek were like so many pop-ups in the city, one at our daughter’s temple, another at a Hillel house on a local university campus, yet another on a busy corner in Manhattan.
Sukkos mobiles were on the streets, with pairs of black hatted yeshiva buchers with lulavim and etrogim stopping passersby with the offer to shake a leafy sheaf, inhale the desert fruit’s citrusy scent and recite the requisite blessings. Observant families crowded the sidewalks, walking to shul or out for a stroll or an outing during the holiday’s middle days when holy day restrictions are lifted. Kippah wearing fathers and modestly dressed mothers herded seeming hordes of kids, and as many strollers, towards the park or the bus stop.
Sukkos was in the air, its joy palpable after the solemnity of the preceding Days of Awe with their focus on reflection and repentance. And the promise, too, as some hold, that there was still time to account for the misdeeds of the past before the gates of forgiveness swung shut at holiday’s close on Simchat Torah. For as the flimsy walls of the sukkah are open to the ushpizin, the sages, who are said to rest there, so, too, are they open to all of us who seek shelter there, to all of us who hope for another year inscribed in the book of life.
So it is that this week on Simchat Torah we read the last words of the Torah and then its first, and begin the weekly cycle anew. We dance with the holy scrolls and celebrate the words and the obligations they place on us imbuing our lives with purpose and meaning.
In the parsha Sukkos Moses recounts the divine blessings the Israelites have received and reminds of the power of those blessings and the mitzvot they represent to penetrate our everyday world and infuse it with holiness. “And this is the blessing,” he tells us, the blessing that we can see and hear and touch and feel in the everyday, in every way, in any place, in any time.
The blessing that is ours if we only let it in, wherever we are.