God Wants You To Have Fun
(With People You Love)
by Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson
Recall that the word “recreation” involves creating something anew—in this case, our own souls. By spending half the day together in prayer, song, and Torah study, we rebuild our own identities as messengers of God and as bearers of God’s covenant. We restore our sense of belonging in a specific synagogue community and in the Jewish people worldwide. Having restored that essential base, the rabbis of the Talmud then tell us to take the rest of the day for feasting and hanging out with those we love.
-- Rabbi Bradley Artson
Each period of history has a title bestowed by historians. The title is meant to reveal some key characteristic of that age. Thus the medieval period is the age of faith, the Enlightenment is the age of reason, and the Nineteenth Century is the age of progress. The name for our age, I would venture to guess, is the age of busyness.
Everybody is busy. Americans routinely complain that they work too many hours—and they do. They complain they have too little time to spend with the children—and they’re right. They complain that they have little time left for quiet reflection, for learning, and for celebrating.
Well, actually, they don’t complain about that—because they don’t have enough time to notice its absence, or because they’re so busy they no longer miss it.
But part of being human, part of living our lives fully, is the inner need to grow and to explore and to play. Contemporary psychology tells us that people continue to grow throughout every phase of their lives, and that the playfulness of children continues into adulthood as well. To be human is to play, to change, and to grow.
Where, in our serious culture of business, work, and productivity, or in its flip side of infantile recreation and foolish escapism, do we make room for adult play, adult study, and adult growth? America’s Achilles heel is its excessive busyness, which spawns equally excessive foolishness to blow off steam.
We’ve lost our balance.
The place to recapture what we have lost is to be found in Judaism’s unparalleled ability to sanctify time. Through the observance of Shabbat, of Holy Days and Festivals, our tradition provides time-out for adults—not to lose ourselves in fantasies or escape, but to rediscover ourselves and the depths of our own creativity and love.
The Talmud teaches that “rejoicing on a festival is a religious duty.” What a remarkable idea! A day devoted to fun, but a special kind of fun. The rejoicing of the festival has little in common with sitting in a dark room staring passively at a fantasy, or risking life and limb to thrill ourselves into forgetting what drones we’ve become. The rejoicing of the Festival is not one of escaping, but one of returning to our own centers—our own families, friends, community, and God.
“Rabbi Eliezer said, ‘One has nothing else to do on a Festival except to eat, drink, sit, and study.’ Rabbi Joshua said, ‘Divide it—devote half the day to eating and drinking, and half of it to the house of prayer and study.”
What a fascinating way to have fun. Recall that the word “recreation” involves creating something anew—in this case, our own souls. By spending half the day together in prayer, song, and Torah study, we rebuild our own identities as messengers of God and as bearers of God’s covenant. We restore our sense of belonging in a specific synagogue community and in the Jewish people worldwide. Having restored that essential base, the rabbis of the Talmud then tell us to take the rest of the day for feasting and hanging out with those we love.
What a marvelous blend of devotion and relaxation, of heightened identity and then simply being.
That adult form of rejoicing characterizes this festival, the Festival of Sukkot more than all others. As the midrash Yalkut Shimoni Va-Yikra reminds us:
You find three expressions for rejoicing written regarding the Festival of Sukkot: “you shall rejoice in your festival (Deuteronomy 16:14)”; “you shall have nothing but joy (Deuteronomy 16:15)”; and “you shall rejoice before the Lord your God (Leviticus 23:40)”.
Why is there so much cause for rejoicing on Sukkot? According to that same midrash, because the harvest is successfully concluded, and because we have atoned for our sins on Yom Kippur. Our business affairs and our spiritual affairs are in order, so there is cause to celebrate through joy.
What that midrash makes clear is that mastery of our work, rather than allowing our work to master us, requires setting clear boundaries and limits to our chores and our work. By rejoicing with each other on this and other festivals, we declare ourselves truly to be free—free in the service of God and goodness, of Torah and togetherness.
בברכת חג שמח
Sukkot, Succot or Sukkos (Hebrew: סוכות or סֻכּוֹת sukkōt or sukkos, Feast of Booths, Feast of Tabernacles) is a biblical Jewish holidaycelebrated on the 15th day of the month of Tishrei (varies from late September to late October). It is one of the three biblically mandated festivalsShalosh regalim on which Hebrews were commanded to make a pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem. It follows the solemn holiday of Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement.
The holiday lasts seven days (eight in the diaspora). The first day (and second in the diaspora) is a sabbath-like yom tov (holiday) when work is forbidden, followed by the intermediate Chol Hamoed and Shemini Atzeret. The Hebrew word sukkōt is the plural of sukkah, "booth or tabernacle", which is a walled structure covered with schach (plant material such as leafy tree overgrowth or palm leaves).
The sukkah is intended as a reminiscence of the type of fragile dwellings in which the Israelites dwelt during their 40 years of travel in the desert after the Exodus from slavery in Egypt. Throughout the holiday, meals are eaten inside the sukkah and some people sleep there as well. On each day of the holiday, members of the household recite a blessing over the lulav (closed frond of the date palm tree, bound with boughs and branches of the willow and myrtle trees) and etrog (yellow citron) (Four species).
According to the prophet Zechariah, in the messianic era Sukkot will become a universal festival and all nations will make pilgrimages annually toJerusalem to celebrate the feast there.(Zech 14:16-19)
-- from Wikipedia
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