Yesterday, I pulled in at home to find several neighbors out on the street. "Sorry to break the bad news," one said. "We have no water." It turns out that work going on in the neighborhood nicked a water main and they had to shut off the water to the whole street.
After a quick trip to the Giant for gallons of water and an impromptu take-out order for dinner, the kids and I were pretty much set for the evening. It was less comfortable than usual - the kids were a little schmutzy from the day and I was *really* looking forward to a hot shower, but we survived just fine. Hopefully, by the time you read this, our water will be turned back on.
But it didn't escape my attention that we're in the middle of Sukkot, the holiday that reminds us of our reliance on water for sustenance and survival. We move out into our Sukkot, which are notably not waterproof, as a reminder to ourselves and to God that we rely on water coming at the right time to help provide us with what we need. We want it to stay dry in the sukkah, but even more, we want it to be wet and rainy shortly after the holiday. We will switch over to our prayers for rain, with great fanfare, on Shemini Atzeret, which coincides with this coming Shabbat.
Walking in the shoes of our ancient ancestors, as we do this week, we can perhaps relate to the vulnerability they must have felt, wondering if the coming rainy season would provide enough for the next season's crops to grow. Their concerns were intense and real - existential worries.
At the same time, Sukkot is זמן שמחתנו, z'man simḥateinu, the time of our joy. The Mishnah describes Simḥat Beit HaShoeivah, the party accompanying the water libation during Sukkot as it was observed in Temple times, as the pinnacle of all celebrations (Sukkah 5:1). As Sukkot draws to a close, we keep the celebration going with Shemini Atzeret and Simḥat Torah (which is basically Shemini Atzeret 2.0). I'm not sure we quite rival Simḥat Beit HaShoeivah in our celebrations, but we certainly accompany the holiday with a good deal of singing and dancing. Simḥat Torah is fun!
So - joy aplenty. And joy particularly at a time of fragility and existential angst. What's the connection? Why celebrate when we might otherwise be worried? I think there are a number of possible answers here - and I'm happy to hear more from you beyond the two that I'll share.
First, this is a time of year when, if we look ahead, we see uncertainty, but if we look back, we see the bounty that we have. Part of our joy comes from the feeling of gratitude for having the means to make it through this season. Happy with what we already have, with what is sustaining us right now, we express that through joy.
Second, we focus on our joy to set a kavanah, an intention, for what we hope is to come. If we behave and feel as though we already have enough, then perhaps God will see our joy and be moved to make sure that it is truly warranted.
I'm looking forward to celebrating with us over Shemini Atzeret and Simḥat Torah - please bring your joy and join us!
Shabbat Shalom and Ḥag Sameaḥ!
Rabbi Marci Jacobs