I feel for these willows,
clipped from the tree
they never imagined
would stop being home.
Packaged and moved,
unpacked and shaken:
blackening at the edges,
shriveling and curling
leaves bedraggled now,
ready to come apart.
We beat our branches
against the earth.
I fling myself down too.
Let the rains fall.
wrapped around me like a tallit.
From nights when the house
is too quiet.
From the relentlessness
what I should have done.
From imagining a life
that's not this one.
From the ocean of grief.
From wishing I had an "us"
I could ask God to save.
The sukkah begins to come apart.
Wind and rains unravel its garlands,
knock the cornstalks askew.
This is its purpose: to remind me
how to celebrate what can't last.
How to grasp its beauty with both hands
and then open my fists, let
the chapter be over. How to trust
there will be more abundance.
How to rejoice in what I don't yet have.
The ebb and flow will carry me to shore,
and I'm not crossing the sea alone.
Salt has scoured me clean. Drench me
with honey, sweeten every decree.
Today is Hoshana Rabbah, the seventh day of Sukkot. It is its own mini-holiday within the bigger holiday. (For more on that, see Three more holidays at the very end of Sukkot, 2012.)
We beat our branches / against the earth. On this day it is customary to take willow branches and beat them against the ground in an embodied prayer for rain.
From wishing I had an "us" I could ask to save. The day of this festival means "The Great 'Save Us!'" Today it's customary to recite supplicatory prayers called hoshanot, which ask God in a variety of ways to save us. (See Hoshanot, 2010.)
The sukkah becomes to come apart. See Pictures and words (Hoshana Rabbah), 2012.
How to rejoice in what I don't yet have. This is the spiritual work that Sukkot asks of us. See Joy Like Our Lives Depend On It by Rabbi David Evan Markus.
The ebb and flow. I learned from my teacher Rabbi Elliot Ginsburg that the Jewish year, and that spiritual life in general, has an ebb and flow; see The year as spiritual practice, 2009.
I'm not crossing the sea alone. Our daily liturgy includes "Mi Chamocha," the song our ancestors sang after crossing the Sea of Reeds. Often from the bimah, as I play the guitar chords that usher us in to the melody we usually use for this prayer, I remind the room (and myself) that whatever we may be facing -- with the Egyptian army behind us and the sea ahead of us, as it were -- we never have to cross the sea alone. We have each other. We have God. We have the presence of love to companion us in our crossings.
Drench me / with honey, sweeten every decree. Some maintain the custom of continuing to eat challah or apples dipped in honey not only on Rosh Hashanah, but all the way through the holiday season until tomorrow. One tradition holds that today is the day when the "decree," the verdict for the world declared on Rosh Hashanah, is finally sealed. I like to think that though we can't avert whatever life has in store for us, we can seek to sweeten it -- for ourselves, and for each other.
Moadim l'simcha -- wishing you joy in the festival; may this be a season of rejoicing.