It is difficult to believe that this confluence of basic chant and Moses' final words is a coincidence. We know that those who assigned the melody to the text did so with great care and precision to coincide with the notion that every word of our Torah is precious and must be given its fair consideration. I prefer to believe that the simple chant reflects the way that the reality of death highlights the simplicity of our true needs. When faced with our mortality, most of us are propelled to seek out life's most precious and basic gifts: more time with our loved ones, the beauty of nature, the sweetness of a ripe piece of fruit, the blessing of waking up each day in a comfortable place, the ability to leave a legacy of giving to others. It is these basic or fundamental truths that we affirmed just two days ago on Yom Kippur. "Given that our time is limited," we reflected,"what are the most meaningful ways we can spend our days on this earth?"
Here, the Jewish calendar helps us. Our Tradition places the festival of Sukkot on the heels of Yom Kippur so that in just a few days we will be commanded to savor the simplest blessings on this the earth. Sukkot offers us a chance to revel in the nature around us, to enjoy special meals with loved ones, to reach out to others and share our abundance with them. Sukkot helps us to express gratitude for life's basics--food, shelter and the sense that we are not alone. It is a week of focus on what we have rather than what we lack. The Torah's command on Sukkot (Deuteronomy 16:14-15) is: V'samachta b'chageha.... vhayita ach sameach, You shall rejoice in your holy day...and you shall have nothing but joy (Click here for a musical recording of this text). This holiday that asks us to dwell outside protected by only a bare minimum of shelter also demands we experience total joy in the process. "Focus on what you have," Sukkot instructs us, "and let it be more than enough." On this Shabbat when our resolve to live better, more meaningful lives has been restored by the cleansing rituals of Yom Kippur, I offer you this poem/prayer to help your journey towards gratitude, wholeness and joy on Sukkot.
Sukkot by Ruth Brin
On our tables are the harvests of the earth,
pears and grapes, corn and peppers;
we thank You for the food which sustains
us in all seasons of the year.
In winter we stand at our windows looking out
upon dreary trees;
long ago the harvest was taken, only dry stalks remain,
and frozen ground beneath the snow.
We thank You for shelter, for the body that shelters the spirit,
for the house and the city and the nation which shelter us.
For the talents of those who design and build,
for the ability of those who make shelters of justice
and structures of peace.
In the spring, after rain, our eyes are filled with loveliness;
greening lawn, opening bud, darting bird.
To thank You for fruitful earth and talented people
is not enough;
there is life and growth, perception,
consciousness, logic and truth,
and because of these there is Your gift of freedom.
We thank You that we are not like bud or bird,
but being human, are free to choose
even between good and evil, life and death.
In July, in the warm sweet days of summer,
we thank You for beauty.
The oaks cast their deep shadows on the lawn,
and we thank You for love:
That we dwell in the shadow of Your love,
that we are able to love,
even as You love us.
Now at Sukkot, the apples hang ripe and heavy
on the trees,
the trembling leaves shine red and gold in the sunlight.
You are the source of the radiance of the sun,
and of the fruitfulness of the earth, his bride.
For shelter and freedom, for love and beauty,
for all the harvest of earth and sun,
of talent and spirit,
For all Your blessings, we give thanks to You.
From Harvest: Collected Poems and Prayers of Ruth F. Bri