Pesach and Sukkot are each week-long holidays that begin on the fifteenth day of a month that can be reckoned as either the first or the seventh (the Mishnah calls the first of both Tishrei and Nisan “the head of the year” for different purposes), and they are both times when we pray for some kind of rainfall. Another thing that both holidays have in common is the fact that they both celebrate transition and uncertainty. 


Pesach does not celebrate our settling the Land of Israel, but leaving slavery in Egypt. The central piece of Torah text that we are meant to study on the night of the seder is Arami Oved Avi (Devarim 26:5-8), but not the entire piece. We stop just as we mention the “great terror, signs, and wonders” with which God struck the Egyptians. We do not continue to read about the settling of the Land of Israel, or the bikkurim (first fruits) that we bring to the priest as we recite that litany. A homeland and home-grown crops from which we might bring religious donations are things that belong to a settled society, not wanderers who are thrust into new-found freedom. As my friend and teacher, Rachel Adler, always said as she led the seder on Pesach, the matzah transforms over the course of the night from the bread of poverty into journey bread.


Sukkot is also a celebration of transition, unsettledness, and uncertainty. The Torah tells us that we must sit in Sukkot (Devarim 23:43) “…so that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel dwell in sukkot as I took them out of the land of Egypt; I am the Eternal, your God.” We are to leave our settled state, leave our permanent house, and move into a hut with only thin walls and an overlay of branches and leaves for a roof for the duration of the holiday. We leave our secure dwelling with its insulation, its heating, its plumbing, and electricity, and we live in a flimsy hut, exposed to the elements. We call this holiday, when we give up a measure of security, certainty, and safety “zman simchateinu,” the time of our joy.


How are we to understand the fact that the two longest Biblically ordained holidays of the year celebrate rootlessness and uncertainty? Another more urgent question is: How can we internalize that lesson?


We are being told not to expect, or even desire, a settled state. We might build a sukkah this year, only to have a storm blow it down. We might be resigned to a lonely holiday, only to have someone surprise us with a visit (socially distanced, with masks, of course)! We need to take joy in the world as it is, or as it could be. We need to take joy in memories, and in present moments. We need to say a brachah as lightning flashes and as thunder booms. We need to let the bright, flaming redness of fall leaves seep into our vision, and smile at them for a timeless moment. The freedom that we celebrate on Pesach is the freedom to take that kind of joy, and to cultivate it. On Sukkot, we bathe in the beauty that the natural world gives us. We take in the world like a work of art. We appreciate it, and we acknowledge its inherent goodness, beauty, and kedushah. 


Moadim lesimchah,

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