I love water. I love the ocean. I love waterfalls. I love to go whitewater rafting. I love to swim. I love the Mikvah – Ritual Bath.
I hate water. I hate finding water on the floor of my study. I hate when our garage is flooded. I hate having my clothes soaked by rain.
I was listening to a tape of Rav Soloveitchik zt”l as I was walking to shul. It was pouring rain, but I was so moved by the power of his thought and words, that I simply stood on the sidewalk with tears streaming down my face, feeling that I was being showered with the joy of Torah. I loved each drop of rain. I treasured each tear. Until, that is, a truck drove past me and splashed filthy water from the street all over me. I hated that filthy water.
Twenty years later I can recall the joy of hearing Rav Soloveitchik’s Torah. The puddle of dirty water is a distant memory. The experience in hindsight was joyous. The contradiction faded with the bad memories.
Hurricane Agnes (1971) confined us to our home. It was cozy being nice and dry and warm in my home even as it seemed that the world outside the window was coming to an end. The day got even better when I had the opportunity to spend the day learning with my father zt”l. I wondered how something so wonderful as Agnes could be so scary to most people. It was a heavenly day, at least until the basement flooded. The learning stopped and the work began. I hated hurricanes; they were no longer so wonderful.
Almost forty years later I can describe the joy of learning with my father, what we were studying, the insights he taught, with the same thrill I experienced when we were learning. The work cleaning up the water is far removed from my memory. The experience in hindsight was joyous. The contradiction faded with the bad memories.
The stories had both good and bad, joy and frustration. The memories are joyful. The bad parts have been diluted by time and even more so by the joyous memories.
Everything on Succot is about water and yet, we do not want it to rain until Shemini Atzeret. Rain will stop us from sitting in the Succah and create the feeling that somehow God is rejecting our Succot. We simultaneously love and hate water on Succot.
Perhaps the joy of Succot – Z’man Simchateinu – the Time of Our Happiness – derives from the sense that we can live with contradictory feelings. Life does not have to be one or the other. Succot, the Time of Happiness, is also referred to as “Yom HaRishon” – The First Day of the Counting of Sins.
Perhaps there is no contradiction between the Time of Happiness and The First Day of the counting of sins: It is difficult to readjust to our daily lives after Yom Kippur. We can become easily frustrated with the ease with which so easily slip back into old patterns of behavior, making the same mistakes for which we were forgiven on Yom Kippur. Yet, the Torah tells us, this period when we face the same imperfections as before Yom Kippur is our Time of Happiness, we cannot define ourselves, tempting as it may be after all the Yom Kippur confessions, by our mistakes and faults. We must find the joy in our lives, what is good and productive. Our Succot mission is to recall the joyous parts of our lives and allow the bad parts to fade and disappear.
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