This Wednesday marks the beginning of Sukkot – what we generally think of as the Festival of Booths. Sukkot is also called “Z’Man Simchateinu” – the time of our joy.
The time of our joy? What exactly is the connection between living in a temporary structure open to the elements as a reminder of our time wandering in the desert – and joy? Rabbi Oren Hayon describes this paradox as a challenge: Sukkot challenges us to find fulfillment of the holiday “not in spite of our historic homelessness, but in the homelessness itself.”
What is it that is joyous about wandering and homelessness? Dr. Arthur Green, a scholar on Hasidism, Mysticism and Theology notes that the modern human condition is such that we gravitate toward being householders. We seek permanence, structure, security. But we should not forget that which thrived in our period of wandering – it was in the period of wandering that Israel entered into a scared covenant with G-d, received the Torah and developed as a people – a community. This occurred well before Israel entered the Promised Land and built the Temple.
The Sefat Emet, the great Great Hasidic teacher, focuses on the connection in the text between slavery in Egypt and the freedom that accompanied life in the Sukkot of the desert. In wandering, the Israelites were not homeowners, and they were therefore free to focus on their spiritual lives. In the words of Rabbi Hayon, “Our ancestors’ place-less-ness, strange though it seems, is precisely the thing that enabled them to build an eternal and ubiquitous Jewish nation.”
This Sukkot, we in The Rashi School community find ourselves, like the Israelites who eventually made their way into Israel, as homeowners for the first time.
For the first time in our school’s nearly 25 year history, we are not dwelling in a temporary structure. We have erected and moved into our permanent home, and we are scarcely two weeks into our school year. Who wants to look back at what came before – where we are is too exciting? But on Sukkot we are invited – indeed required – to step outside of our permanent structure and back physically into a temporary one. And we are further commanded to find joy in doing so.
And so Sukkot provides us with an opportunity to recall with splendor what developed in our years in Dedham, Needham, Newton and back to Dedham again.
In our “wanderings” we developed and breathed life into our core values – Limud, Kehillah, Tzedek, Kavod and Ruach Elohim (Learning, Community, Justice, Respect and the Spirit of God). We articulated our mission statement that continues to guide our curriculum. And we formed and nurtured our community of students, teachers, administrators, rabbis, parents, and lay leaders. What struck and moved me on the first day of school was not the building itself, but the fact that all of these things and people came with us. It has been said before, but I will say it again: a school is not made of bricks and mortar – it is made of what goes on inside.
On Wednesday night, let us all step outside – into our Sukkot and celebrate with joy what sustained us in our temporary state. And as the values of our ancestors, planted and grown in the desert inform our acts as Jews with a permanent home in Israel, may our values as a school, honed in our wanderings, continue to inform our acts, as homeowners, in Dedham.
Cane yehi ratzon.
Dana Gershon, President, Rashi Board of Trustees