Sukkot: Finding Joy in Fragile Times

Rabbi Alan Lew, z''l, from This is Real and You are Completely Unprepared

...We sit flush with the world, in a ‘house’ that calls attention to the fact that it gives us no shelter. It is not really a house. It is the interrupted idea of a house, a parody of a house…

And it exposes the idea of a house as an illusion. The idea of a house is that it gives us security, shelter, haven from the storm. But no house can really offer us this. No building of wood and stone can ever afford us protection from the disorder that is always lurking all around us. No shell we put between us and the world can ever really keep us secure from it. And we know this. We never really believed this illusion. That’s why we never felt truly secure in it [...]

In the sukkah, a house that is open to the world, a house that freely acknowledges that it cannot be the basis of our security, we let go of this need. The illusion of protection falls away, and suddenly we are flush with our life, feeling our life, following our life, doing its dance, one step after another.

Questions for discussion:

  • What (if anything) resonates with you from the text above? What is your experience this year of Sukkot?

  • Where do you find security/ refuge/ comfort in these unstable times?

  • Another name for Sukkot is “Zman Simchateinu,” the holiday of our joy. How might joy arise from becoming “flush with our life” as Rabbi Lew describes?

  • If time permits, read the paragraph about joy below and explore what does/doesn’t resonate with you.

Rabbi Alan Lew, z''l, from This is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared

And when we speak of joy here, we are not speaking of fun. Joy is a deep release of the soul, and it includes death and pain. Joy is any feeling fully felt, any experience we give our whole being to. We are conditioned to choose pleasure and to reject pain, but the truth is, any moment of our life fully inhabited, any feeling fully felt, any immersion in the full depth of life, can be the source of deep joy.

Brene Brown, sociologist

To love someone fiercely, to believe in something with your whole heart, to celebrate a fleeting moment in time, to fully engage in a life that doesn’t come with guarantees—these are risks that involve vulnerability and often pain. But I’m learning that recognizing and leaning into the discomfort of vulnerability teaches us how to live with joy, gratitude, and grace.