Sukkot is known as Z’man Simchateinu – the time of our great joy. A time to move away from the heavy prayers, guilt and repentance associated with Yom Kippur and move outdoors – into our Sukkot where we are surrounded by nature and all things beautiful – all creations of God. We are urged to spend as much time as possible in our sukkah – eating, laughing, talking – even sleeping. We decorate our sukkot so that they are cheerful places. The sounds of the birds, the blueness of the sky (unless it rains), the twinkling of the stars through the roof of the sukkah – all of these things make the holiday so special – so joyful. I know Sukkot in South Florida is often difficult to appreciate with the heat and the rain – but when you allow yourself to celebrate it and surround yourself in nature, it is pretty incredible.
For some of us, unfortunately – no matter how beautiful nature can be, Sukkot is torture. No, I am not talking about the people who don’t like to sweat as they sit in a hot sukkah. And I am not talking about people who hate when their hair frizzes if they spend too much time outside. Nor am I talking about those who have allergies to pollen and plants. I am talking about control freaks – those of us who spend our lives doing everything we can to insure that life goes exactly as we plan it. For us control freaks – Sukkot can be hell.
Control freaks might get nervous on Yom Kippur. There is a lot to do. We have to go to the synagogue. Say the required prayers. Control our hunger pangs as we fast. Apologize. Forgive. Do everything required of us so that we will be written in the Book of Life. But control freaks – we thrive on this kind of stuff. Yes, it is a lot of work – a lot of pressure – but we can control it by doing it.
The morning after Yom Kippur – the control freaks – we are happy to wake up and realize that we have successfully gotten ourselves written in the Book of Life for another year. We go about our day – controlling our lives. We’ve got our Blackberries or IPhones attached to our hip. We can’t miss anything. We expect that our employees or colleagues do things just so. Anything else could lead to disaster. We adhere to a tight schedule – and expect our families to follow that schedule. We don’t like things out of place – that is chaos.
A few days after Yom Kippur – we pull out our sukkah. We know where it is. We packed it away nice and neatly last year along with the decorations. Each decoration is hung in the same place every year. We love the kids to help us decorate – but not too much – because, while they mean well, the sukkah won’t look just so. When they get tired of decorating – we go and put things in the proper place. We move our table in the sukkah – prepare the dinner. The guests arrive – most of them on time – but a few are late (that drives us control freaks crazy!).
As we wait for everyone to arrive, the wind picks up. “Oy vey!” A decoration falls from the sukkah. As you rush outside to fix it – the rain starts. And not just rain – a downpour. And the control freak begins to freak out. Plans have to change – no eating in the sukkah. The indoor table is not set! Crisis!!!
Sukkot is torture for control freaks. Nothing about this holiday is permanent. Nothing about it can be controlled. A sukkah is not supposed to stand up to a strong wind. It should fall over. The roof of a sukkah is not supposed to keep rain out and the walls of a sukkah should not prevent the elements from coming in. The wobbly nature of the sukkah does nothing to prevent decorations from falling down. Meals that are scheduled to take place in the sukkah – might very well have to be rescheduled or canceled if the rain comes pouring down. For those who sleep in the sukkah – a barking dog or an annoying mosquito can easily keep you from having a good night’s sleep. Life in the sukkah is uncontrollable.
And for control freaks – this makes Sukkot anything but a time of joy. As a control freak myself, I wrestle with the uncontrollable nature of this holiday every year. But, having wrestled with it for enough years, I have come to realize that every control freak needs Sukkot. We need to go through the turmoil of losing control…of living on God’s schedule and not our own schedule. We need to understand that it can rain and our dinner might have to move inside and we will survive. We need to realize that a beautiful sukkah is one with decorations that fall down – this is proof that God ultimately controls how our sukkah looks – not us. We need to appreciate that no matter how hard we work to build our sukkah – the wind might blow it down and, in doing so, say to us “Ha! You thought you were the boss!!!”
Control freaks need to observe Sukkot. It is a great way to realize that, really, we don’t have control. This is a hard message for us control freaks.
Fortunately this is not the only message of Sukkot. There is a much more important message for control freaks (and for all of us) on this holiday – a message that teaches us what joy really is.
So we are supposed to sit in the sukkah. We are supposed to invite our friends and loved ones into the sukkah for meals. When we do so, our sukkah is filled with conversation, stories, laughter, learning, music…As we sit together, enjoying each other’s company – a huge burst of wind comes along. It blows our sukkah away and with it the decorations. What are we left with? Some might say nothing. Some might say a mess. But, Sukkot teaches us that the answer should be that we are left with everything. Nothing took the family and friends. And because of this, nothing took the conversation, stories, laughter, learning, music. We can move inside – or even sit where the sukkah was and continue enjoying our time together.
You see Sukkot is not about the sukkah or the decorations. It is really about who fills our sukkah – the people. They bring with them the conversation, stories, laughter, learning, music. They bring with them the joy that they share with us. So many of us (especially the control freaks) need this holiday – need this odd ritual of moving in the sukkah – to shake up our routine and force us into a situation where the only thing that we control is who we surround ourselves with. Everything else is beyond our control. Nothing else really matters.
Sukkot is our time of great joy because we have a great excuse to invite our family and friends over for a good time in a flimsy hut that leaks when it rains, gets hot in the sun and might very well blow over if it gets too windy. But who cares – because we can spend some quality time together.
Sukkot makes us live in an uncontrollable environment for a few days. If you have the courage to live in this environment – if you have the courage to stop worrying about the details and the schedule and the time and the weather and the decorations….Sukkot puts everything into focus and you realize that within this uncontrollable environment – the stuff we worry about when we sit in the a/c under a real roof is not all that important. The people we usually don’t have the time to hang out with – the people we sweat with and get wet with in the sukkah – they are what matters. They are our sources of joy. They are what Sukkot is all about.
Go spend some time in the sukkah. And try really hard to bring the joy of this holiday back inside when Sukkot comes to a close.