Long before Turn, Turn, Turn by the Byrds became a 1960’s classic song our people taught the world what the Book of Ecclesiastes, the scroll we read during the Festival of Sukkot and the basis for the Byrds song, teaches: “L’chol man ate (Ecclesiastes 3:1). For everything there is a season.”
We taught the world that time has meaning.
It is not simply a cyclical repetition of what was before, but that in sanctifying time, we give meaning to our lives.
For Jews our Festival of Sukkot is “our season of rejoicing. In fact it is the only occasion during the year when we are commanded to rejoice (Leviticus 23:40) .
During long years when poverty was our norm and persecution often our plight, we survived and thrived because we forced ourselves to rejoice even when the fibers of our souls resisted. We forced ourselves, though, to rejoice because we believed that God commanded us to do so.
Zits, by Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman, is one of my favorite comic strips. Zits is about an adolescent boy named Jeremy Duncan who inhabits—in his mind–a world light years away from his clueless parents. In one strip a typically grumpy Jeremy mocks his mother by saying he knows what she will say. “Maybe you’d feel better if you tried looking on the bright side for a change.” And then in parody of his mother’s wishes he continues to poke fun, and with an air of pseudo enthusiasm he proclaims: “I can solve all of my problems by simply having happy thoughts. I see that the sun rose right on schedule again…Don’t you love how paint sticks to walls all by itself…Well I’m off to take advantage of another day of free taxpayer supported public education. Lucky Me!”
And then, two panels later, with his mother out of sight, he grudgingly acknowledges to himself. “Crud. I DO feel better.”
By following our tradition’s commandments to rejoice, we somehow manage to feel better even in bad times. Perhaps that is why we Jews–despite all that has happened to us–are still here