Sukkot presents us with a paradox.
The week-long festival which began last night is also known as “Z’man Simchateinu – the season of our rejoicing.” We are invited – even commanded, according to tradition – to rejoice, as did our ancestors who dwelt in booths during the harvest season, in the abundance of the earth and for the gift of life, itself.
At the same time, Sukkot reminds us of the fragility and transience of those very gifts. We’ll read Ecclesiastes, known in Hebrew by its author Kohelet, who begins by observing: “Vanity of vanities…all is vanity.” And we are to leave the comfort of our homes to spend time eating and sleeping in our sukkot – flimsy and penetrable shelters. In them, we become acutely aware of the forces of nature, like wind and rain, and our dependence on the comforts and conveniences of our “permanent” dwellings which can foster in us a false sense of security.
To put it simply, during Sukkot we are to feel both grateful and vulnerable at the same time. Yet, in the wake of recent events, many of us are already there in that space.
We are painfully aware of the devastation that wind and rain that can wreak on a city, state, or island. We know all too well how abruptly an earthquake can shake a community to its core. We know how an unexpected diagnosis or death can take from us everything we took for granted. And we know how suddenly we, or anyone, can fall victim to a random act of violence like a mass shooting.
It is important to feel exposed and vulnerable at times but we are not supposed to dwell there indefinitely. Once we’ve gotten the message that life is precious, knowing that it can be taken from us at any moment, we must emerge from our sukkot with a renewed commitment to do everything we can to cherish and protect it. Individually, as a community, and as a nation, the time has come for us to renew this commitment.
I am joined by rabbinic colleagues across the country who are calling on the Jewish community to hold our legislators accountable for their failure to protect life. In a courageous opinion piece in the Jewish Journal, Los Angeles Rabbi Sharon Brous writes:
There have been 1,400 mass shootings since Sandy Hook, and yet we have failed to think or pray up a way to pass legislation that would change this reality. And even worse, after highly publicized mass shootings, there tends to be a loosening of gun laws. Right now, Congress is considering legislation that would make it easier to obtain silencers. Just imagine the increased scope of the carnage had the shooter possessed a silencer. It is criminal that Congress has failed to act in the face of the epidemic of mass shootings over the past many years; it is obscene that they are considering legislation that will exacerbate the problem.
Rabbi Brous concludes by sharing some practical steps we can take: Call your members of congress. Tell your House Member to oppose the Sportsmen Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act (SHARE Act) which would deregulate gun silencers. Tell your Senators to oppose Senate Bill 446, the concealed carry reciprocity bill. Learn more here. Find your rep here.
I do not intend to persuade anyone into believing that gun violence prevention measures will make us all safe. I am certain, however, that they will make us safer. Any elected officials who fail to advocate for and pass such measures should know that the midterm elections, a little over a year from now in 2018, will be a season of reckoning or rejoicing. In the meantime, it is only through the seeds that we sow now, individually and collectively, each day and every week, that we might hope for a productive harvest in the year to come.
We have never been more exposed and vulnerable than we are now. Yet, if come out of our sukkot with a renewed commitment to cherish and protect life, taking active steps to express that commitment, we will be able to give thanks for lessons learned and for lives saved.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach!
R’ Moshe Tom