Our New Year of 5779 has begun, although the Torah year is not quite complete – we will read the end and the beginning of our Torah when we gather for our Simkhat Torah observance on Monday evening October 1.
Between that day and this Shabbat we have an entire Festival to celebrate: Sukkot, the season of ingathering of the harvest of the year now past. What has the work of your hands wrought? What will you show to account for your life? These are the eternal, existential questions and Judaism resonates with them at this time of year.
The name of Shabbat Ha’azinu is “listen,” and we are addressed here in the plural: we, the community, capable of more than each one of us individually. It is a wonderful irony that one cannot pronounce the word “I” unless one shares a language with others who know what the word means; inevitably, then, our individuality is in need of our community.
Ha’azinu, “listen,” urges us to one of the most difficult of acts: to listen to the wisdom of the ages. Each of us rejects that which has come before us in our struggle to become ourselves: every parent knows that you cannot help your child to avoid the mistakes you made – each of us has to learn through making many of the same errors. To come to know ourselves as individuals we must separate from others enough to see our own shadow, as it were; and then, even as a child learning to walk reaches out for the support of a caregiver’s hand, we spend the rest of our lives reaching out for the oneness we were born with and had to lose in order to begin to understand how to find.
“The older I got,” one Jewish comic said, “the smarter my parents became.” One day we are finally able to listen, and what we hear is what we needed to hear all along. Others have struggled as we do; ancestors have faced challenges just like ours; there really is a chain of human tradition to which we belong. We are not alone.
At the right moment, such knowledge provides comfort, consolation, and the support of knowing you can and do belong.
On this coming Sunday evening, as we enter the Sukkot harvest Festival, may we be able to listen to the words of the generations of those like us who came before us and created the awareness of this holiday:
1. the lulav and etrog to wave together to demonstrate how a diversity of life all comes together to speak of Eternal truth;
2. the harvest abundance, to urge us to realize how much we have, and see the best ways of sharing it;
3. and the sukkah to remind us that our homes and the security they convey are fragile, and that everyone needs a roof to keep off the rain.
On Sunday afternoon Jewish communities all over the world will gather to celebrate and consider the harvest we have created as a community. We’ll raise and decorate our Sukkot, many of us at our own homes, others of us sharing a Sukkah, and some visiting the Sukkah of others if we have no place to build our own temporary dwelling . There we will meet each other to share the harvest of our gardens, and of our lives. May it be, as the ancient wish goes, a time akh same’akh, a time in which you are gifted with joy in your life and all you can hear when you listen.