Sukkot is perhaps the best (and worst) holiday to be traveling on.
Best because, well, the whole point of the holiday is to make a pilgrimage, and what better way to honor that tradition than by being in Israel for the start of the festival. Worst, because all things being equal I love Sukkot in the New England fall and I miss my family and the beautiful and seasonable temperatures that finally arrived last week.
Related to Sukkot, Sunday night gave wannabe astronomers the world over a rare chance to see a total lunar eclipse of the Supermoon, and while it happened at a reasonable hour back home there was zero chance I'd rouse myself in the middle of a jet-lagged middle-of-the-night slumber to witness it. With Facebook today half about the eclipse, and half about water on Mars, it got me thinking about the universe, and in a most Sukkot-y, Book of Ecclesiastes-y of traditions, the meaning and futility of our existence.
I don't think I'm reaching. Remember the romantic idea of the Butterfly Effect, which states (roughly) that a butterfly can flap in wings in Boston and effect the weather in Beijing, or, more dramatically, exert a mathematical force, no matter how small, on a distant star? It's a beautiful idea, mathematically sound, and validating of the power of an insignificant creature to influence even the most gargantuan of larger forces.
I get it.
There's also a reason that the time and date solar and lunar eclipses can be calculated with precision thousands of yeas into the future…because there is no stopping the celestial bodies that are in motion. At the end of the day, our sphere of influence is quite finite and exceptionally limited. And as Ecclesiastes, who ruled in Jerusalem, observed quite poignantly, all men share the same fate, and that we should do things like eat, drink, and be merry since our end is predetermined and we really don't have any control over anything. (That quote is approximate and Dave Matthews is certainly to blame.)
So which is it? Are we in control and are we masters of our fate? Is life futile and are we powerless in the grand scheme of things? Should be live life to its fullest enjoyment, or work for the betterment of others and love modestly? I'm pretty sure that somewhere between Hedonism and Asceticism is where most of us sit. The big questions and answers, after all, are a little bit scary.
This week, as we dwell in Sukkot and reflect on the desert wandering and ancient pilgrimages of our ancestors, the heavens themselves have added perhaps a new dimension of what it means to be somewhere, just for a little while. My recommendation in the face of these serious and weighty issues is to do precisely what the Torah tells us to do: "Rejoice and be happy" in your observance of Sukkot.
Me? After celebrating Erev Sukkot in the northern Negev at a moshav barbecue on Sunday, Monday night found me amidst the throngs at the Haifa International Film Festival and meeting with colleagues. Tomorrow night, though, I'll be in a most special sukkah, at the Sammy Ofer Stadium along with 30,000 rabid soccer fans, at a rare, rare, Champions League home game in Haifa. With some good fortune Maccabi Tel Aviv just might pull off a victory against Dynamo Kiev.
At the end of the day, though, despite my Sukkot beginning in Israel, I am most looking forward to shaking my lulav in Boston before Shabbat arrives. See you back home.