Human beings have an amazing capacity to block out life’s travails during the course of a celebration. Couples get married and nations declare independence in the midst of wars. We celebrate a year’s harvest not knowing whether next year’s crop will be thin or blighted. We enjoy life, despite the inevitability of death.
Jewish celebrations are no exception. We celebrate Purim even though we remained Persian subjects in the aftermath of its miraculous salvation. The miracle of Chanukah is celebrated even though it took place during a lull in the middle of a war, and even though the independence wrought was short-lived. On Yom Ha-Atzma’ut, we celebrate Israel’s independence even though it transformed a local conflict into a multinational one.
Perhaps more than any other Jewish holiday, we rejoice on Sukkot even as we acknowledge the frailty of life. We move into makeshift huts as the weather turns cold, and we face uncertainty about whether the coming winter will be rainy enough to sustain us. Again and again, we call out to God: “Hosanna! Save us!” We read the Book of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes), all about the futility of human life and activity. And yet, in our liturgy it is called “z’man simchateinu” – “the season of our joy,” and is considered the most joyous of Jewish holidays. It is almost as though we acknowledge that the lightness of being, far from unbearable, is in fact liberating and comforting.
For more than five years, Israelis have debated the pros and cons of working out a deal for Gilad Shalit with Hamas. Now that the deal is done, the arguments for and against will cease to be theoretical claims and will be borne out in concrete results. I certainly do not envy those who had to make this decision.
Serendipitously, the news of the deal for Gilad broke just before the onset of Sukkot. In the spirit of this holiday, which teaches us that we may rejoice in the face of our own frailties and uncertainties, can we please, at least until the end of the holiday, rejoice with Noam and Aviva Shalit without considering the deal’s consequences? Perhaps the most famous passage in Kohelet tells us that there is a time and season for everything. These times and seasons turn with an astonishing rapidity, and part of our challenge is to keep them from encroaching upon one another. In that spirit, the spirit of Sukkot, let us acknowledge Gilad’s release as a time to laugh, a time to dance, a time to embrace, and a time to love.