One of the joys of reading Torah year after year is finding the relevance and connection to our lives in new and different ways. As Rabbi Ben Bag Bag said in Pirke Avot, “Turn the Torah over and over for everything is in it. Look into it, grow old and worn over it, and never move away from it, for you will find no better portion than it.” I’m in the midst of planning for our WRJ District Biennial, and couldn’t help but notice the lessons to be learned from Sukkot in considering the potential for making meaning at the upcoming conference.
This Shabbat is known as Chol Ha Moed Sukkot and we read from Exodus 33:12 – 34:26 which begins with an encounter between Moses and God immediately following the transgression of the Golden Calf. In a simplified version of the story, Moses carves a second set of tablets, comes down from Mount Sinai, and proclaims God to be compassionate and gracious along with a variety of other virtues. Of course, these attributes have become a core part of the Jewish liturgy for the High Holy days, festival and fast days. God agrees to restore the covenant, pardon the people, and accompany them as they journey on.
This is also a time when many of us are preparing for District Biennial conferences --long weekends when we will gather together, bonding and sharing common interests, learning as a sacred cohort, and finding spirituality with Shabbat services, Torah study, music, singing dancing, and more!
When we view a sukkah and all the symbolism surrounding it, we find interesting contrasts with the conferences. We traditionally see the actual sukkah as a temporary hut, an impermanent booth reminiscent of desert travelers, with minimal furnishings, open to the elements and not nearly as comfortable as our homes. It has an open side that can never be closed for privacy or to shut out the frightening things in life.
When we attend Biennial conferences, we are also travelers, finding ourselves away from home, encouraged to experience new ideas and meet new people. We meet and mingle, leave our comfort zones, and realize the opportunity to discover new possibilities we weren’t even aware of prior to the experience
Time spent in the sukkah can be profoundly meaningful and enlightening; I encourage all women to attend conferences as they can also be profoundly meaningful and enlightening. It’s all about what you don't know yet, what you haven't been exposed to, the people you meet and find an unexpected connection with, knowing you’ll discover something you weren’t even aware of, something that may light a fire or inspire you beyond what you’re even imagining is possible today.
A few years ago, I wrote a poem about the power of being in a Sukkah, inspired by Rabbi Michael Adam Latz (my sister’s rabbi in Minneapolis) and now I realize that it applies to our plans to attend conferences, to come together and be inspired:
DWELL IN THE SUKKAH
As we dwell in the sukkah, outdoors in the sun
In the breezes of fall
the heat and the rain
We must live as the sukkah lives - -
Moadim L’simcha, may this be a festival of joy … and Hag Sameach.
Pamela Lear is the Immediate Past President of the Sisterhood of Temple Beth Am in Miami, Florida. She is currently an Area Director for the WRJ Southeast District, and is Co-chair for the district's upcoming Biennial Conference 2018, to be held in Miami. Pamela also serves on the WRJ Board as Chair of the Annual Fund Committee and as Chair of the Donor Recognition Task Force.