For the first time in my adult life, I am building a sukkah (a temporary hut) that Jews around the world build for the holiday of Sukkot (literally Feast of Booths, and commonly translated to English as Feast of Tabernacles). It has long been one of my favorite holidays; this time of year my head is swimming with memories of celebrating the holiday with my family sitting in our sukkah bundled in layers of sweaters, drinking hot apple cider with the scent of pine drifting down from the roof. Until this year, I had never attempted to build my own. There were always good reasons—living in cities it’s hard to find the space you need to build and you can always go home, right?
But this year the reasons to build one far outweighed the reasons not to. So we are trying. And by we, I mean me and my 3-and-a-half-year-old daughter. She very earnestly directs me as I struggle to fit the PVC pipes together to build the frame. Sometimes she will pass me something or ask me a question. Most of the time I am too worried about whether this thing that we are building together will stay upright for the entire holiday to give her a real answer.
And that’s really the point—I don’t know whether or not this hut is going to stand and I love that my daughter is engaged in it with me to the point that she is asking questions too (not the same ones I am, but still). It’s at moments like these, moments that the holiday of Sukkot encourages us to have, that I am reminded that if in life you wait to have it all figured out, to have known, with a capital K, what I was getting myself into, then I may never have tried to build the sukkah in the first place.
I had the honor of learning with professor Eleanor Duckworth in graduate school. Eleanor is a cognitive psychologist, educational theorist and progressive educator, and profoundly impacted the way I think about education, teaching and learning, and the power of noticing and wondering. In an article she wrote entitled, “The Virtues of Not Knowing,” she asserts that “knowing” an answer is not an active virtue, because it “requires no decisions, carries no risks, and makes no demands.” She goes on to write that: “The virtues involved in not knowing are the ones that really count in the long run. What you do about what you don’t know is in the final analysis, what determines what you will know.”
As I write this blog, I still don’t know whether the sukkah I have begun to build will stand (but I promised myself and my wife that it would), but I am content to be in the moment of not knowing. Maybe out of this not knowing will come new memories of this holiday—for me and my daughter—that will stay with me for years to come.