“‘Live in temporary shelters for seven days: All native-born Israelites are to live in such shelters . . . ’” — Leviticus 23:42
A note to our readers: This week marks the celebration of Sukkot, one of the most joyous celebrations on the Jewish calendar. Throughout this week, our reflections will be tied to this biblically mandated holiday.
The popular 1970s band Kansas made these words famous: “Don’t hang on; nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky.” However, recent research suggests that even the earth and sky won’t last forever. Scientists have confirmed that our universe is dying, even if it might take a few billion years. Still, the news is compelling. It reminds us that nothing lasts forever — except for God.
This is one of the main messages of Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles. We are commanded to leave our permanent homes and live in a temporary, rickety shelter called a sukkah. No matter how uncomfortable it might be to live in the booths for an entire week – in some climates it’s too hot, in some it’s too cold, or it rains – we know that it’s just for one week. We don’t fuss over the lack of fancy furniture or comfy beds, because again, it’s temporary. The rabbis teach that the sukkah is a metaphor for our lives year-round. Everything is temporary.
While we might think that when we move from our home to our sukkah we are moving from permanence to something that is fleeting, the opposite is closer to the truth. Our homes and our possessions are completely transient when compared to the everlasting spiritual gains we will make while in our sukkah breaks us free of the illusion that we will live forever and reminds us that we are only passing through this world. As the Jewish new year is about to start in earnest, we are directed to think about what we really want to do with our ephemeral lives.
There is a story about a businessman who was traveling and stopped over at the home of a famous and well-respected rabbi. When the man entered the rabbi’s home, he was shocked to see that there was barely anything in it. The man couldn’t stop himself from asking, “Excuse me for asking, but are you in the middle of moving homes? Where are all of your belongings and furniture?” In response, the rabbi asked the businessman, “And where are all of your belongings and furniture?” The man replied, “Why would I have those things with me? I’m just passing through here!” The rabbi smiled and replied, “So am I.”
And so are we.
Life is temporary. It is a test and an opportunity to do good and to be good so that we might store something truly lasting in eternity. How might this clarity affect the way you spend your day today? How might you choose to fill your years? When we grasp the brevity of life, our priorities shift, and we live more meaningful lives.