The four in-between days
September 18, 2013
There are four days between Yom Kippur and Sukkot.
In the old Pesach counting song I learned as a child, four are the matriarchs Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah. These days I tend to count six matriarchs, including Bilhah and Zilpah, the other two handmaidens from whom the twelve tribes descended. (With today's consciousness, ignoring them seems to smack of a kind of classism; I'd rather be inclusive in my davenen.) So it's hard to connect these four days with those four foremothers.
But four suggests the four letters of the Tetragrammaton; and it suggests the four worlds of action, emotion, thought, and spirit.
If each of the four days between the holidays represents one of the four worlds, then perhaps we began with a day of assiyah, action and physicality, and today we move into the day of atzilut, spirit.
It's customary to begin building one's sukkah right after Yom Kippur. (Some make a practice of driving the first nail after the sun has set on what was Yom Kippur day.) That's definitely an assiyah act, an act in the physical world. On Sunday, Ethan built the frame for our sukkah out of wood and screws.
The next day was our day in the world of yetzirah, emotions. I find that my emotions are always heightened during and after Yom Kippur. Something about the long day of fasting, singing, praying, chanting, standing, yearning -- it opens the floodgates of my heart and they often stay open for a little while. On Monday, our son and I gathered some branches for the sukkah roof. Creating a safe container, maybe, for all of that open heart.
Then comes the day in the world of briyah, thought and intellect. A day for intellectually processing everything that has transpired since this season of teshuvah began back at Rosh Hashanah. Or maybe back at the start of Elul. Or maybe back at Tisha b'Av, the fast which falls two months before Yom Kippur. On Tuesday I did a lot of thinking. And our son and I pondered where best to hang the various decorations which we had saved or procured.
And now it's the day of atzilut. The day of spirit. The last day before Sukkot. Tonight at sundown the festival begins.
These four days are meant to be days of integrating whatever we received at Yom Kippur. Once upon a time the High Priest went into the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur and, some teachings say, received a new name for God. Today there is no High Priest; each of us must serve that function in her/his own way. Our old names, our old partzufim (literally "masks" -- think faces, archetypes, ways of seeing God) grow worn over the course of a year of use. On Yom Kippur, we davened with all our heart and all our might in hopes of receiving a new name for God -- a new way of understanding God -- a new insight -- new way of relating to holiness.
And whatever came down for us on that holy day, we have these four interstitial days to integrate it. To install that new name, as my teacher Reb Zalman likes to say, on the hard drive of our hearts.
It's been impossible, this year, not to see Sukkot through the lens of the flooding happening in Boulder. Sukkot is many things at once: a harvest festival, a remembrance of the harvest huts in which our ancestors once dwelled while harvesting their fields, a remembrance of the temporary shelters in which our ancestors dwelled during the Exodus from Egypt. It's also a festival of impermanence, when we leave our safe and stable homes and spend a week "living" (or at least dining, learning, and rejoicing) in flimsy temporary shelters with leaky roofs. It's one thing for that to be a voluntary practice, as it is for my family and me. It's another thing entirely for the many in Colorado who have had no choice but to leave the homes they thought were safe and stable.
The shviti image I've included in this post (drawn by Morton Breier) features the Jewish Renewal chant which says that in assiyah, in the world of action and physicality, "it is perfect." What does it mean for us to consider this physical world to be perfect when there is so much suffering in this world? Maybe the "perfect" is aspirational -- maybe we can only get there if we try to take care of one another when there is need. If you are able to participate fiscally in that work, please know that the Allied Jewish Federation of Colorado has set up a 2013 Boulder Relief Fund; 100% of donations will go to support victims of the flood. You can also donate to support my teacher R' Zalman Schachter-Shalomi and his wife Eve Ilsen as they work to rebuild what they have lost; or to Bonai Shalom, my friend R' Marc Soloway's shul, which was badly damaged by the flooding.
May our journey into Sukkot be meaningful and sweet. May each of us integrate whatever we received on Yom Kippur into our whole being. May we be mindful that even as we celebrate willing embrace of impermanence, others are daily confronted with impermanence they did not choose. May our week of rejoicing in our little temporary houses strengthen our willingness to tend to those in need, here and everywhere.