Paper chains and Sukkot….as intertwined as the paper chain itself, stapled together forever in my mind and heart.
When my kids were young, and given the artistically-challenged mother they received in the parent-lottery, paper chains was the way we decorated our Sukkah. Even now that they’re older and far more skilled than I, we decorate with paper chains. Construction paper, stapler and scissors….my kind of art project. One year, the kids got together with the kids across the street and make a paper chain long enough to go between our two houses, and decorate a little of each others’ sukkah, too.
Tonight we begin the holiday of Sukkot, the happy consequence of getting through last week’s intensely reflective Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. We are midway through the holiday marathon, and now’s when we get to stop and have a long drink of sweet water to revive us. Sukkot is the holiday of exuberance, of abundance, of harvesting our internal and external crops. The moon is full, our tables are full of guests, our hearts are full of gratitude.
The tradition of inviting guests into the Sukkah is a long and treasured one. This morning, I was once again at the Great Lakes Naval Recruit Command, teaching about Judaism, Jewish values, and in particular, Jewish ethics. But we saved part of our study time to welcome Rabbi Chaplain Emily Rosenzweig. She came in with a lulav, etrog, and Sharpies to talk about Sukkot with us, and to get some decorations made for the beautiful sukkah that is standing outside the Chapel building on Base.
The recruits thought about whom they would like to invite into their Sukkah – which characteristics and traits – and who they knew (alive or not) that embodied those traits. Then, with nothing more than pen and paper, the words, pictures, and stories tumbled out. We heard about courage, sacrifice, and compassion. We heard about chaplains from different faiths who gave up their life jackets, and their lives, so others might get off a sinking ship. We heard about a single mother raising a single son, and never giving up on him. We heard about a grandmother who hid in the forest, even giving birth in that wilderness, to avoid capture from the Nazis. We heard about Joseph, a model of forgiveness and reconciliation with family. And we heard about Jewish music stars who continue to explore their own identity, facing fans and critics alike. Through these pictures, each story, each presence felt, each guest in the sukkah, will bring more sheltering peace into the space created.
And we made paper chains, too. That just makes it pretty.
This Shabbat, we’re sort of in limbo. We read the very last of the Torah last week – Ha’azinu – when Moses speaks his last to the people of Israel, before they cross into Canaan without him. Next week, we begin with Genesis . “In the beginning, when God was creating…” So this Shabbat, we’ll read about the festival of Sukkot, one of the three festivals in the year. (Passover and Shavuot are the other two). We take a moment to experience the beautiful fragility of life in that little hut. We wandered in the wilderness, setting up and tearing down our homes as we travelled. We plant and sow our fields, bringing in the harvests, but that is the result of a delicate balance of rain, soil and hard work; who knows what the next season will bring? And our souls, newly re-freshened from Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur – we are like babies in the year, fragile and sweet,enjoying the sheltering protection that will keep us growing strong and healthy in the new year.
Whether you’re in uniform or not, whether you’ve built a sukkah or not….May you each find a moment in the sheltering happiness of a sukkah, surrounded by those who fill your soul.