Shelters (in Place): a Pandemic Sukkot

Sukkot, the joyous Festival of Booths, started last night – five days after Yom Kippur. We face our mortality on Yom Kippur each year, and this year’s Yom Kippur was even more existential than usual. Sukkot always comes on Yom Kippur’s heels, and it makes sense: After we face our mortality, Sukkot is a celebration of the temporary. We are each getting closer to death every day. So we sit, eat, sleep, and pray in huts that we build with meticulous care and then tear down one week later. Like our lives right now – these huts are anything but stable. They only have three walls, and by law, we must be able to see the sky through its roof made of branches. If Yom Kippur’s message is “We are going to die, and that’s terrifying,” Sukkot’s message is “We are going to die, so let’s celebrate while we can.” The five days between the two are a path paved with meaning. If we find meaning in the days we have left, we can celebrate them, even – or especially – if we don’t know how many more we’ve got

This is a hard Sukkot for many of us because it’s a lonely one. But Sukkot teaches us that this loneliness – the loneliness of the pandemic – is also temporary. Shelter-in-Place is just another temporary shelter. We don’t know when it will end, but we have to trust that it will. “To everything there is a season,” Kohelet writes, in the book we read on this holiday. The pandemic season, the election season, the holiday season – all of it is temporary.

Tomorrow I will visit a friend’s sukkah and I will wrap myself in prayer beneath her branches. It won’t be a sukkah overflowing with friends, food, and song this year. I will be alone and masked, and I will only be there for the 20 minute time slot I booked before the next person arrives to fulfill the mitzvah. But I will be sheltered, I will be present, and I will breathe deeply. I will hold each second closely before I release it. To everything there is a season. Sukkot is a reminder that even this one can’t last forever.
Shabbat Shalom and Hag Sukkot Sameach. May we find meaning and joy in this season, as we celebrate all that is temporary.