By now, the beautiful holiday of Sukkos feels like a somewhat distant memory. The leaves have changed into their splendor and august colors, and are beginning to rapidly fall from the trees. Our clocks have been adjusted to Eastern Standard Time, and the weather has become markedly colder.
But for me, Sukkos is very much at the fore of my mind. That’s not because I am so holy as to be able to hold onto the holiness of the holiday. Rather, it’s because my sukkah is still standing on my porch.
We have a silver tray upon which we placed our esrogim after Sukkos. From week to week, we watch sadly as they shrivel and shrink. And yet, our sukkah, sans the s’chach, is still up.
I am aware that there are people who procrastinate and don’t get around to taking down their sukkah for a long time. I heard that one woman wanted to serve her family’s Purim s’udah in the sukkah as a subtle reminder to her husband that he still didn’t take it down. But I actually have a valid excuse. I contracted COVID-19 at the end of Sukkos and, since then, I have physically been unable to take my sukkah down. When I was sick, I, baruch Hashem, didn’t have any breathing issues, except for a minor cough. But I felt terribly achy, with severe flu-like symptoms, including chills and fever.
The worst part of all was that I didn’t know what to do with myself. Sitting was painful, and I couldn’t concentrate. I can’t say that I was climbing the walls, because I lacked the energy to do so. But I did fantasize about climbing the walls.
Then, when the main symptoms cleared up, terrible nausea set in, such that I have never experienced before in my life. I didn’t lose my sense of smell or taste. In fact, I had the opposite experience. Many things had an awful smell.
Even when that finally went away, and even now a few weeks later, I am still drained and fatigued, a common after-effect of COVID-19.
In addition, my poor family was quarantined with me, though, thankfully and incredibly, no one else contracted it, baruch Hashem.
So, here we are, a month after Sukkos, and my sukkah still stands. Although I really would like to know that the boards are securely put away for next year, there is a little comfort in seeing the sukkah up, connecting me to the beautiful Yom Tov we celebrated a few weeks ago.
The truth is that moving on and transitioning is always challenging. “The comfort zone is a wonderful place, but nothing grows there.”
We tenaciously cling to our comfort zones because the unknown and unfamiliar are intimidating and scary. But, moving on requires energy, commitment, and effort. Often, we need a proverbial (or literal) kick in the pants to get us moving.
One of my favorite stories is about a rich fellow who was showing a group of people around his massive estate. He proudly showed off his huge mansion, his tennis courts, pools, sports complex, perfectly manicured fields, and stunning gardens. When he showed them his lake, they noticed a full-length alligator lying in the sun across the lake. When the wealthy host noticed them staring at the alligator, he told them that if anyone was daring enough to swim across the lake, he’d give them a million dollars.
He waited 30 seconds, and no one budged. He was about to walk away when they all heard a splash. Everyone turned around to see Mike desperately swimming across the lake. The alligator heard the splash, its eyes popped open, and it dove into the water. The assemblage watched in fear as Mike swam with all his might as the alligator inched closer and closer. As the alligator lunged towards Mike with its jaws open, Mike jumped out safely on the other side. Everyone rushed over to congratulate him. The rich host shook his head. “I think you’re out of your mind, but a word is a word.” He pulled out his checkbook and began writing out the check.
Mike stood up, still panting, and, trying to catch his breath, he said, “I just want to know who the jerk was who pushed me in!”
We celebrate times of accomplishment and milestones, not only to mark the achievements of the past but also to give encouragement to deal with the encounters of the future. In fact, perhaps, more important than celebrating the past is giving that boost of encouragement for the future. The unknown and unfamiliar is daunting and intimidating. Transitions are nerve-wracking. Better than getting pushed in, is to be danced in. That chizuk helps us feel that we are capable of plunging on and struggling upwards to the next rung of our journey.
We celebrate graduation when children prepare to move on from the familiarity of the school they just completed and are moving on to the next level. We celebrate marriage when two single individuals pledge to synergize their lives together and build a home on Torah values. We also celebrate a bar mitzvah when a boy begins his ascent to maturity and responsibility within the esteemed ranks of klal Yisrael.
Next Shabbos, Parshas Chayei Sarah, our family will, b’ezras Hashem, be celebrating the bar mitzvah of our dear son, Avi. Avi carries the name of my dear Sabba, Avrohom Yosef Staum. My Sabba was beloved for his sterling character and pleasantness. He performed great chesed for people, most of which we will probably never know about. He was honest to a fault and a person who could be counted on. Throughout the vicissitudes of living as a Jew in America from before the War and onwards, he remained Shabbos-observant and loyal to Torah.
Our Avi is blessed with a vivacious personality, a quick mind, and is always fun to be around.
We hope that Avi will follow the path of his illustrious namesake. We hope, as he forges ahead on the roads of life, that he always has the inner fortitude and confidence to remain loyal to Hashem and Torah. We hope he will be able to confront the challenges of life with faith and conviction. We hope he will have the wisdom and energy to erect walls when necessary and to tear them down when necessary. Finally, we hope Hashem will grant us the patience and wisdom to guide him properly towards a life of k’vod Shamayim.