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10.6.2016 Weekly Torah Portion

PostPosted: Fri Oct 06, 2017 4:29 pm
by RabbiMark
Shabbat Chol HaMoed Sukkot: Do Worry, Be Happy

As I reflect on my first High Holiday experience at BTS, I am overcome with gratitude and joy for the way in which this incredible community welcomed me and my family. I am humbled to serve God and this community day in and day out, precisely because of the incredible individuals that make up Beit T’Shuvah. This is a place where the individual is reminded that they matter and that each and every contribution is cherished as something precious and vital.

And how incredible are the contributions of each community member! This past Sunday, October 1, we had a swarm of residents, sisterhood ladies, and my family converge upon our BTS sukkah in order to engage in the act of sukkah beautification. If you haven’t seen Jody Labov’s gorgeous handmade cardboard fruit or the residents’ chandelier made of dried oranges -- you should go check it out! I was overcome with such joy, such gladness, such gratitude for the contributions of each resident and community member who stopped by to help out.

This generosity of spirit reminds me of the core mitzvah of the holiday of Sukkot -- from Deut. 16:14-15,

You shall rejoice in your festival, with your son and daughter, your male and female slave, the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow in your communities. You shall hold a festival for the LORD your God seven days, in the place that the LORD will choose; for the LORD your God will bless all your crops and all your undertakings, and you shall have nothing but joy.

Our liturgy refers to this time period as z’man simkhatenu -- the moment of our joy. Most uniquely, we are commanded to feel a certain way at this moment in the Jewish calendrical cycle. With the exception that we are to revere and love God, there are very few commandments in the Torah that dictate how we ought to feel.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I, personally, don’t appreciate when someone tells me how I feel or how I ought to feel. I find that it somehow diminishes or invalidates my emotional experience to be told: “Don’t worry” or “Just relax.” Indeed, nothing makes me more tense than being told to relax and be happy. We only need to look at the world around us -- the shooting this week in Las Vegas, the devastation in Puerto Rico, Florida, and Houston; joy feels distant. It feels so far away.

So what happens if we don’t want to feel joy in this moment? What happens if we can’t allow ourselves to experience genuine happiness? What are we to do with our genuine sorrow? Our very real pain?

Whenever I come to the intersection of sadness and joy, I look to Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, who writes, “Sometimes a group of people happily dancing together take hold of someone who is standing miserable and depressed on the outside. They pull this person into the dance despite it all -- and force this person to dance.”

Similarly, when we force ourselves to be happy, we move our pain and sadness to the sidelines. What if we were to pursue the sadness itself and “pull it into the dance circle” -- honoring the totality of our existence.

Our verse, Deut. 16:14, acknowledges the categories of people who are likely to find the commandment of rejoicing difficult to manage. Indeed, for the fatherless, the stranger, the slave, the widow, and everyone suffering it is the responsibility for the entire community to bring them into the larger circle. Truly, at different moments in all of our lives, each and every one of us inhabits these peripheral roles. Imagine a world in which our pain is brought into the forefront of our times of joy, instead of pushing it and ourselves toward the edges of the community!

There seems to be a difference here between the fleeting moments of happiness that everyone experiences and the act of living in a state of joy and gratitude. Rabbi Mark likes to say that joy is an address -- we live there. That doesn’t mean that we can’t experience distance and pain when we inhabit our joy, rather that joy is an expression of connection and presence. It is an extension of our gratitude.

Imagine: instead of the individual having to simply “be happy,” that it is the obligation of the community to celebrate and bring each and every person “into the dance circle” in order to move the community to the address of joy. Instead of creating an environment in which celebration is happening around those in pain, on this festival of Sukkot we are commanded to create a joyous atmosphere for and with those very same people. We worry and we rejoice.

What’s more, Rebbe Nachman offers that the depths of our pain has the potential to be an expression of joy, in and of itself. By joining with our community in celebration of the good and acknowledgement of our sufferings, we elevate our joy to something beyond simple happiness. We acknowledge our complete stories. We turn to our fellow and we bring them into our circle. We celebrate the wholeness of being human.

Chag Sameach and Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Andy Markowitz