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Enough with the tinsel, already.

Living in a building where almost no-one has a balcony, let alone a balcony that you could build a Succah on, means that as soon as Yom Kippur is over, there is a mad rush to try and grab a spot for your pop-up Succah outside on the path leading up to our building complex.

Last year, there were 7-8 Succahs out there, including ours. Already this year we seem to be holding at 10-11 – and we’re still one day to go. Part of me is really happy that more people are participating in the mitzvah of building a Succah, part of me is worrying that all the secular neighbors are going to explode in rage, about having to navigate all this canvas…

Last year, some stroppy bint had a go at me and my husband for ‘selfishly’ practicing the mitzvah of Succot at the expense of ‘people in wheelchairs’ who can no longer use the pathways.’

There was more than enough room for someone in a wheelchair to get pass our Succahs, as I’d seen a few people in wheelchairs doing it. But the bint just wanted to rant at religious people, so who were we to spoil her fun?

But now that the Succahs are also taking over large swathes of the parking lot too…. And a bit more of the space on the pavement…. Well, I’m feeling a little nervous, I have to admit.

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One of these new Succahs was printed up with xmas-looking decorations on all 4 sides – tinsel and metallic decorations – plus a massive close-up of the Temple inside.

And there was something about that, I don’t know what, that put me in a funny mood.

I came back into our house Friday morning, and I told my husband:

I’m sick of hanging up cheap xmas overflow decorations for Succot. Totally and utterly sick of it. It just looks so tacky, so xmas-y, and this year I’m not going to do it.

He looked at me with a bit of a worried look on his face, because if there’s no tinsel, how are we going to get into the festive mood?!

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I went and googled ‘natural Succah decorations’ and it brought up a whole bunch of totally over-the-top images of Succahs that looked like they were fresh of the cover of the ‘Ideal (Succah) Magazine’. Nope, hand-carving uplifting messages into variegated colored pumpkins stacked by the Succah entrance was not going to happen this year…

But, creating decorations made of dried out orange slices, leaves and beads really appealed to me, so instead of making my Shabbat chicken, I started trying to dehydrate orange and lemon slices in my oven Friday morning. (I cut the drying time down to 1 ½ hours, so they are still a little bit soggy, but Shabbos waits for no man, so what can you do.)

My daughters eyed me like I’d gone crazy. I could see them wondering, scared to ask:

What, is Ima back on her extreme ‘health food’ kick, and she’s just feeding us dried orange slices for Shabbos?!

Man, were they relieved when I explained that I was just having an anti-tinsel, anti-xmas-decorations-masquerading-as-Succah-decorations thing.

And then, they spent the next four hours crafting some really beautiful natural decorations, and finding a big stick to tie them all too.

I also made one.

And the husband also made one.

And while the Shabbos food still got made on time (just about), there was just something so awesome about the fact that for once, we’d sat down and made some Succah decorations ourselves, as a family.

I’ve wanted to do it for years and years and years, and never managed it.

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So even though some of my orange slices still look more ‘chewy’ than totally dried (and will probably attract five million wasps and bugs) – who cares?

At least for this year, I’ve kicked the tinsel into touch.

I don’t have great hopes for Succot, as my chagim have been pretty lackluster so far…. I still don’t know what I’m going to cook. Our Succah is still roofless and floorless. I’m totally unprepared in a million ways, still.

But one thing I’m sure of:

This year there will be no tinsel.

And that, at least, is something.

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Photo by Jukka Heinovirta on Unsplash

In Likutey Moharan 1: 74, Rebbe Nachman gives a whole discourse about Hoshana Rabba and Simchat Torah, most of which is extremely obscure and hard to understand.

But these are the parts I picked out as speaking to me, at least, going into our next few days of chag:

“Hoshana Rabbah corresponds to unintelligent speech, for it corresponds to the willow branch leaf, which resembles the lips…So, Hoshana Rabbah which represents judgment, the aspect of the Fear of Isaac, is drawn from immature consciousness (mochin dekatnut, literally ‘small mindedness’, which is why its speech is still without intelligence (da’at).

“However, Simchat Torah corresponds to intelligent speech, which is the life-force of the soul, as stated in the Zohar, “Fortunate are those who know the paths of the Torah and toil in it in an upright way. They plant Above a tree of life of all healing.

“This corresponds to Jacob, the aspect of wisdom, of mature consciousness, which is the healing of the soul, as in, “A charitable sun with healing in its wings.” For the sun corresponds to Jacob, who corresponds to wisdom, to intelligent speech, which is an aspect of the Torah, of Simchat Torah, which corresponds to the tree of healing.”

Feel free to come up with your own ideas of what Rabbenu is trying to put across here, as Rebbe Nachman himself firmly encouraged his followers to develop novel ideas and interpretations from his teachings, as long as they stayed firmly within the bounds of Torah law.

But here’s what I think Rabbenu is teaching us about this time of Hoshana Rabba / Simchat Torah:

In a nutshell – that we need to work on our communication with the people we love, to ensure that we’re speaking openly and honestly and from a place that will ultimately result in a ‘healing of the soul’.

When the soul is happy, the emotions are balanced, and the body and physical health is also usually the best it can be.

And vice-versa.

So many of us today find it so hard to speak honestly and gently, especially to our spouses and children.

Especially to the people we most love in the world. So many of us are scared to be ‘the real us’, or to feel our real feelings, and certainly to express them in an open way.

Maybe that’s one of the reasons we take the willow branches on Hoshana Rabba and smack them into the floor a few times, because we’re trying to dislodge all the superficial, plastic ‘small minded’ speech that keeps us so far away from really connecting to our loved ones.

Today is the day for breaking down the spiritual and mental barriers that are preventing us from speaking openly about the things that really matter, and from telling out spouses and kids (and others…) how much we really love and care for them.

And then tomorrow, once we’ve freed our soul and our facility of speech from the klipot that are encasing them, we can really celebrate the giving of the Torah with full-on, deeply-felt, sincere joy and simcha.

In this generation of i-Phones and emails, so many of us are hiding behind Facebook posts and Instagram because it’s easier to feel superficially ‘connected’ like that, than to really risk a genuine soul-connection.

But today’s the day that can all change!

So take your willow branches, and smash them into the floor.

And then go tell your significant others how much you really love them, and how much they really mean to you.