After the Tekiah Gedolah is sounded at the conclusion of Yom Kippur, there is a sense of awe that we have come through such a day. For 25 hours we fast and focus on our mortality, our human frailty and failings. For me, I think of Yom Kippur as embracing the mystery--we think about all of the ways we could do better even in the face of not knowing what the new year will bring. We pray that it will be a good year, yet it feels tinged with desperation and longing. There is no certainty which comes out of Yom Kippur, other than whatever certainty we feel regarding our own actions.
The morning after Yom Kippur, I usually wake up elated: the hard part is done! No more looking at the same sermon text! No marathon again until next year! And then, I start into Sukkot.
Sukkot is z'man simchateinu, the time of our joy. It is a festival celebrating harvest, abundance, and the potential of the new year. While we pray for rain and think of the impermanence represented by the sukkah, the focus is on potential. The liturgy feels like we are celebrating the fertility of the year--anything is possible!
I do love having these two holidays within a week of one another because I think they represent life so beautifully. We have mystery--the unknown that carries with it anxiety and longing for goodness--and we have potential--the recognition of so much possibility at the state of a new year. Each day, we hold the fullness of potential within our hands, and pray we will be able to withstand whatever challenges come our way.
As a pregnant woman, this Sukkot does feel like a harvest festival. I walk around full of potential life, wondering what this human being inside of me will be like when s/he arrives in (God-willing) eight weeks. I also walk around filled with a sense of mystery, wondering and praying that this baby will arrive healthy and safely. There is no telling when the baby will decide to make its entrance (there is a deadline, but much can happen before then), there is no telling if there will be complications, there is no telling whether the baby will be a good eater or sleeper, and there is no certainty as to how my two year-old will respond. So, I walk around with a feeling that there is so much potential and abundance of blessings yet so much that remains unknown. In my one uterus is Yom Kippur and Sukkot rolled into one.
I do believe that we each have a choice, one that I consciously make each day. We can choose to focus on the potential for blessings and abundance, or be trapped in the mystery of uncertainty. I believe we are at our best, our most real, when we are aware of what bad things can happen but translate that into gratitude for our blessings.
There was an NPR story on the morning of erev Yom Kippur about a pediatric oncologist who works on mostly incurable brain cancers. He spoke of talking to parents when there are no more treatment options for their child. It was a tremendously powerful story and I cried while listening. Yet, I didn't shut it off, because it felt disrespectful and inauthentic to hide from the pain of others. Instead, by listening and realizing how uncertain life can be for all of us, even the youngest among us, I was grateful for my healthy daughter and resolved to continue to make the most of each day.
We are 20 days into the new year... As we consider the mystery of the year ahead, the uncertain things which could come our way, may it help us recognize the many ways we are blessed and focus us in on making the most of our potential.