“What is the Purpose of a Temporary” Life?

I hope that this holiday season is a spiritual as well as a community delight in each of your lives. These weeks have been difficult for my family as the pandemic has affected many people who are close to us; in fact, several have died in the last 15 days. It made me think of the “fragility” of our body, which is like a Sukkah, a temporary and fragile dwelling place. The Sukkah is built with cloth or wooden walls with a palm tree roof, but in essence it is a temporary and even precarious dwelling in which we eat, where some sleep and where good deeds are practiced such as being hospitable. In the Sukkah, it is customary to receive guests whom we call ushpizin.

I remember that our beloved RANEBI particularly loved this celebration because it marks a cycle of renewal, a new beginning, and he taught us that this Festival is also known as Chag Ha’asif (Festival of Ingathering), Z’man Simchateinu (the Time of our rejoicing), Chag HaSukkot (Festival of the huts) or simply Chag (festival) for its celebratory nature.

Apart from all the traditions of this holiday, it is a practical festival which we can compare with our lives. It teaches us that just as the Sukkah is temporary, so is our life in this physical world. We may decorate the Sukkah with the best ornaments we can find, but in the end, it is still temporary. Shlomo HaMelech (King Solomon) said in Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) 1: 3,5 “What does a man gain from all his labor at which he toils under the sun? …. The sun also rises and the sun sets; then hastens to its place where it rises again.” When we recognize our fragile humanity and our temporality, it humbles us.

In the Torah, we learn one of the characteristics that the Eternal grants to Moshe, when he says in Bamidbar (Numbers) 12: 3 “Now this man Moshe was very humble, more so than anyone on earth.” When we are humble, the Bore Olam approaches us; as it is written in Tehilim (Psalms) 138:6 “Though the LORD is high, He cares for the lowly, but the arrogant He knows from far away”. When we are humble, the Bore Olam accompanies us, and His mere Presence is the reason for His Divine Protection.

Why do you think that animals don’t attack the young when they are in the presence of their mothers or fathers? Because the very presence of its parent is a symbol of respect and protection for the cub from its predators, which is why the Psalmist wrote in Tehillim 91:1 “He who dwells in the secret place of ‘Elyon, who abides in the shadow of Shaddai, the Almighty”.  Later this Psalm describes the consequences of living under His covering.

What should our dwelling place be? Our goal should not be to live in a “temporary dwelling”; our goal should be “to live in the eternal habitation of our God”.

Sukkoth also commemorates the UNITY of the people of Israel. In Biblical times it was a National Holiday, when the men made pilgrimages to Jerusalem; it was a reason for the “ingathering of all Israel”. Only the humble could live together, otherwise they could not tolerate each other, and in the end, what unites us is His Divine Presence.

Sukkot is also a time when we manifest or express JOY; both in ancient times and today we rejoice over the fruit produced in the Land of Israel; so, this Moed, Festival has a direct relationship to agriculture, but in its deepest sense we rejoice over the work of our hands.

We have just come out of the “days of repentance” that precede Yom Kippur and we can now rejoice in the confidence that we have a just and merciful God. Joy is not a state of a having a permanent smile, it is a state of calmness, peace, and confidence that everything will get better.

At this feast we also celebrate the UNIVERSALITY of the Torah, as Devarim 16:13-14 says: “You are to keep the festival of Sukkot for seven days after you have gathered the produce of your threshing-floor and winepress. Rejoice at your festival — you, your sons and daughters, your male and female slaves, the Leviim, and the foreigners, orphans and widows living among you.” The Torah affirms in Numbers 29: 12- 40 that it is a universal holiday. In addition, as a reminder of the words of our beloved RANEBI, this will be the only festival celebrated at the end of time, as Zechariah 14:16 says “Finally, everyone remaining from all the nations that came to attack Yerushalayim will go up every year to worship the king, Adonai-Tsevaot, and to keep the festival of Sukkot.” The Eternal provides us with this opportunity to incorporate the rest of humanity into this holiday.

How can we integrate others to be with us? As our dear RANEBI explained through the four species that we use for Sukkot, so that we can emulate the teachings in our lives: The Etrog (אתרוג a citron or type of lemon) has fragrance and flavor, and is comparable to the person who studies Torah and they practice the Torah through their good deeds; the Lulav (לולב the date palm), its fruit has a good taste but lacks aroma, which is similar to people who have studied the Torah but do not put into practice what they have learned; the Hadass (the Myrtle הדס), has a pleasant aroma but no flavor, and is equivalent to people who do good deeds but there is no Torah in them; the Aravah (Willow ערבה) lacks both flavor and aroma, representing those who neither have the Torah nor good works. When we decide to be “the Etrog”, we gain two characteristics that made Moshe a recipient of the Voice from Heaven – humility (to learn) and meekness (to be able to put into practice what we learn, that is, to put the Torah into action). When we can visualize the power of these two characteristics that made Moshe unique, we conclude the book of Kohelet chapter 12:13b “So fear God and keep His Commandments, because this is all for man.” “The end of the matter, now that all has been heard… fear God and keep His Commandments; this is what being human is all about.”

These days have made me see the fragility of man before an almost invisible and undetectable virus for the “super man of the 21st century”, and from the perspective in which I am involved as part of the problem, I observe how much arrogance and pride there is in so many people, who even from the Hospital seek material pleasure (work) instead of seeking their physical recovery, and others who do not want to turn their gaze toward Heaven or recognize that we are temporary and that one day, sooner or later, we will return to the dust of the earth. My question is: what should I do while I am in this temporal body? By commemorating this holiday, I have concluded that it is good for me to fear God and to fulfill His Commandments; in other words, to be humble and meek, to study Torah and put its teachings into action. By so doing, I will find joy and happiness in my life. We are approaching the end of this Festival, and this is my cordial invitation to all.

Shabbat Shalom! 

Chag Sukkot Sameach!  Mauricio Quintero