“You find three verses [two in this week’s portion] that command you to rejoice in the Feast of Tabernacles….For Passover, however, you will not find even one command to rejoice. Why not?” Several explanations are offered in the commentary for the variations of joy-related commandments (there is one command to rejoice for Shavuot). Each explanation suggests important ideas about the calendar, including the upcoming fall holidays, and reciting Hallel throughout the year.
(For more on the festival cycle, see, e.g., Michael Strassfield’s article at My Jewish Learning.)
Alone in the sukkah, Kohelet* and me
“Havel, havalim,” he tells my coffee’s rising steam.
Yes, “vapor, all is vapor,” I’m willing to agree.
Lifebreath can’t remain for long
and the future can’t be told.
But does that make life “futile”
or just make it hard to hold.
Every fall, I find myself somewhere different, “in the beginning.”
The Torah cycle carries Jews from Eden, one autumn, through to the edge of the Promised Land the next fall; then the scroll is re-rolled, and we start again. Forever rolling through that same five-book story complicates the concept of “beginning.”
And the idea of “new year” sort of rolls along for Jews:
- One new year — once a sort of fiscal birthday for animals — begins with the eleventh month of the calendar, Elul. Elul has become a time of introspection to prepare for the much more widely heralded new year for years, Rosh Hashanah.
- Rosh Hashanah, literally, “head of the year,” is part of a longer period of observance bringing folks from Elul, through the Day of Atonement, to Sukkot, known as “The Festival” in ancient times.
- Sukkot, the booth-building, redemption-themed fall harvest holiday, AKA “time of our joy,” became, at some point in Jewish history, linked with renewing the Torah cycle. Where Jews once closed a harvest festival by praying for rain for the following year’s bounty, Simchat Torah (“Torah Joy”) closes and renews the reading cycle.
- The fall holiday cycle ends with a reading of Moses’ death on the west bank of the Jordan and, immediately after, continues, “in the beginning of Elohim-God creating the heaven and the earth…”
So, last Saturday, we started the year’s reading cycle again: “…and there was evening and there was morning, a first day.”
By the end of that first reading, Eve and Adam have already been evicted from the Garden. The Eden episode, however lasting in imagination, lasts a total of 40 verses. Tomorrow, in the second reading of the year, God is already disheartened enough by the whole human experiment to consider destroying it all, finally leaving Noah and company to try again.
In our backyard the wooden skeleton of our sukkah — the fragile structure erected to help us celebrate the holiday of Sukkot — still stands. The walls are gone, packed away for next year, but no one has yet found the time or energy to completely dismantle last year’s structure.
And so it begins.