It’s a full moon tonight and the cicadas are singing their song, which is at least 40 million years old. There is a slight chill in the air and Halloween candy is on sale everywhere. The drama of life is in the groove, and the world keeps on turning. Everything is the same and everything is different. It’s part roller coaster and part Ferris wheel.
There is a storm of emotion all around us and inside of us, too. We are moving from the intensity and introspection of Yom Kippur into the barely restrained joy of Sukkot, from a spiritually interior narrative to a delicious flashy outdoor observance, from beating our chests and asking God for forgiveness, to shaking a lulav and etrog and embracing the fertility of the Earth. It’s a bit dizzying.
Sukkot comes at exactly the right time this year. We are more than ready for a healthy dose of positivity. In this dramatically wonderful moment, we receive an open invitation to acknowledge the sheer abundance of the Universe.
I know; the climate change struggle can dampen our enthusiasm for this. Our eyes and hearts are so trained on the terrible mess we’ve made of it that sometimes we forget to look up at what we still have, and to exclaim, “Hallelujah!”, or something like that. Then we can go back to the soulcrushing work of wrestling for the future of the planet with those who see it as no more than a generator of capital.
Sukkot challenges us to lean into hope, to believe. Vaclav Havel, a great 20th century intellectual and a former president of the Czech Republic once wrote, “I think that the deepest and most important form of hope, the only one that can keep us above water and urge us to good works, and the only true source of the breathtaking dimension of the human spirit and its efforts, is something we get, as it were, from “elsewhere.” It is also this hope, above all, which gives us the strength to live and continually to try new things, even in conditions that seem as hopeless as ours do, here and now.”
Hope has become a hashtag in my head. I am trying to lean into all signs of it. With the chaos level ticking up – I know, how is that even possible? – it seems dramatically necessary to consider hope as a sort of ballast, to keep my soul together.
Sukkot is a balm to the achiness of being squeezed into our respective homes. It’s a metaphor for the goodness of harvest, which we take for granted. Bathe in that gratitude, feel the hopefulness that comes with the crisp apple, the pumpkin patch, the Autumn leaves.
The hope comes from so many places. Tonight, in particular, it comes from the cyclic nature of Nature and the Jewish calendar. Sukkot will always be the night of the full moon. Sometimes it’ll be 80 degrees, and sometimes it will be snowing. But the moon will always be full, and we will always just have emerged from Yom Kippur. The hope from the alignment of stars and planets and galaxies shines on us with sweetness and joy. Perhaps this is what Havel means when he says that hope is something we get from elsewhere.
As we hang on in this interregnum period of Fall, in a time we can still be outdoors together – the safest way there is – we give thanks for God’s presence, for each other, and for this community we have sculpted together. We give thanks for this holiday of Sukkot, a reminder of the bounty we share together. We are thoughtful about how tenuous it can be, how easily things can go wrong.
And on this Sukkot, we lean into hope, inspired to do whatever must be done, not for selfish, self-centered reasons, but because it’s the right thing, “even in conditions that seem as hopeless as ours do, here and now.” Now more than ever, as Jesse Jackson once said, “Keep hope alive”. And as I say, hope keeps us alive.