Yom Kippur at Elat Chayyim
The joy of a new book

Sukkot meditation

This morning we sat meditation in the sukkah outside the synagogue. Jeff welcomed us into the sukkah with words about finding contentment in the midst of uncertainty, knowing that we are protected even in a flimsy structure that's vulnerable to the elements.

As we focused on our breathing, on being present in the moment, the cornstalk roof rustled to keep us company. As we grew still, the birds returned to the roof, trilling their songs and pecking at the ears of corn. There was a chickadee over my head, singing its name over and again, "chick-a-dee-dee-dee-dee-dee."

Our meditation was shorter than usual today so we could take the time to bentsch lulav. Bentsch means pray, more or less, and lulav is shorthand for the Four Species (though it's literally the name of one of the species, the date palm). In our left hands we each held an etrog (a citron, from Cypress, the only fruit which preserves the flower which bore it), and in our right hands the plaited bundle of three greens: long narrow palm in the middle, soft willow on the left, fragrant myrtle on the right.

Interpretations for the symbolism of the four species abound, but Jeff taught us one today which was new to me: the etrog represents the heart, hence our ability to connect emotionally with one another; the willow, our mouths, so our ability to speak with one another; the myrtle, our eyes, so our ability to truly see one another; and the palm frond, our spines, so our ability to stand tall in the world.

We said the blessing and then shook our bundles in the six directions, each time with the intention of connecting ourselves with that direction and connecting that direction with ourselves. Afterwards I led us in a shehecheyanu, because I had never fulfilled the mitzvah of shaking the lulav before. (Somehow, writing this, I find myself wanting to sing, "shake your lulav thing, shake your lulav thing, yeah yeah!" Which may be not entirely inappropriate, since many people close out the festival of Sukkot with dancing, and one interpretation holds that Sukkot is essentially a fertility festival. It's not a hard leap to make when you're holding the lulav and etrog together in your hands...)

The commandment for Sukkot is usually translated as "to dwell in the sukkah," but the Hebrew word לישב relates to the verb "to sit." So sitting meditation in the sukkah seems like an apt way of celebrating: sitting, breathing, being conscious of the impermanence of our structures and the permanence of what really shelters us.