Rosh Chodesh Tishrei always begins on Rosh Hashanah. There’s no Rosh Chodesh blessing because Hashem blesses it on the last Shabbat of Elul.
Thinking about Sukkot and the hurricanes sparked thoughts of vulnerability. The Torah instructs us to build an impermanent structure, according to detailed specifications, and inhabit it as our dwelling for seven days. At the same time, it requires us to view our permanent home as a temporary structure.
For many victims of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, what they viewed as their permanent structures disappeared. Their homes, furnished and decorated with carefully chosen possessions, all in their places, ceased to be.
These themes of permanence and impermanence were witnessed. One day, the sun was shining, and the next day, the sky was dark, with ominous rain clouds that emptied themselves in torrents. The wind howled and whipped through the trees, uprooting them. Homes, cars and the hard-earned fruits of labor were washed away. Lives were lost.
Challenging physical and emotional work continues with the cleanup of the devastation and the building of new “permanent” structures to call home.
Back to Sukkot. Because we’re staying in the sukkah for only seven days, one might think that we shouldn’t spend time and energy adorning it. But we do. The smallest of children make paper chains and cutouts of fruit to hang on the walls.
While we’re living in it, we must fully make it our own. We can’t live in it with the thought that it could be taken away at any moment.
This is also true regarding the impermanence of our physical bodies. The soul dwells within the body, whose structure is also transient, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t live fully in it. We are aware we will lose it at some point, but we don’t know when.
The fragility of life puts us in touch with feeling vulnerable.
We prefer to feel safe and secure, but we’re vulnerable in our homes and bodies, making us emotionally naked and anxious. Certain life stages heighten those feelings.
New parents and their babies are vulnerable. Toddlers and children, teenagers, college kids, newlyweds, pregnant women, soldiers, and the elderly are all vulnerable. We all are, all the time, yet that perspective can be exhausting and restrictive.
But what if we, like those who have gone before us, toughen our spirit and commit ourselves to rebuilding our lives, homes and communities on the foundation of Judaism?
What if we, in spite of our vulnerabilities, consciously reinvent ourselves with the strength of our immigrant relatives, examine changing beliefs and allow ourselves to be flexible like the newly constructed buildings designed to sway with the power of storms?
What would happen if we held fast to our teachings and traditions but explored new ways to honor and rebuild them, rather than abandon them like discarded rubble?
We’ve witnessed the power of community these past few weeks. Strangers helping strangers. Prejudices, political differences and judgments collapsing like the seemingly permanent dwellings.
Tishrei is a time of new beginnings. Let’s recommit to building our community. Let’s be a source of strength for one another. Money is not the only way to connect and help others. Gifts of the hands and heart are needed as well.
Close your eyes and quiet yourself. Place your hands gently on your heart and acknowledge your vulnerabilities. Breathe deeply and shore up your strength. In what ways can you change your thoughts, expand your heart and alter your behavior to help mend our world? What gifts do you have to give?
Act to reach out to others.
A Gift From My Heart
Here’s a link to a Yizkor meditation I’ve created as an opportunity to connect with the memory of departed loved ones on whose shoulders we stand. We remember them, and we must live in a way to honor them: bit.ly/yizkor-meditation.