An effective technique to defuse a pending argument is “to pregame” the events that give rise to tension. For example, we will inevitably debate the process each year of setting up our sukkah. The construction is fraught with peculiar details. Where in the yard shall we place the sukkah? Should we change the configuration? How many pieces of plastic fruit hanging from the rafters is the right amount? Before we begin the construction process, I call out the tension to come. This year I offered, “let’s agree that I will build, and you will correct me as we go.” We both laugh and steel ourselves for the annual sukkah-building challenges.
In the end, we put a lot of effort into creating a beautifully incomplete structure. The process seems a metaphor for our lives. We spend much time debating the details of our days. Yet, the structure is always flimsy; wind-blown, attacked by yellow jackets, and sometimes a washout. The imperfections are either a distraction or a source of joy. You just need an awareness of the true meaning of the day.
Despite the debates and the dampened plans, Sukkot is the happiest of Jewish holidays. We are commanded in Torah to be happy on our holiday. Joy comes imperfectly.
As I mature, I have learned to better cope with life’s shortcomings. I finally understand Richard Carlson’s book “don’t sweat the small stuff, and it’s all small stuff.” The sukkah is a little crooked. The plastic grapes hang a little too low. That’s the small stuff. And it is all a reason to smile.
What is essential is to find joy in life’s endeavors. The pleasure of sukkot is about gathering, appreciating the change of seasons, and being grateful that we have warm, dry homes into which we can retreat from our imperfect sukkahs. We can begin to find happiness when we can laugh at our own imperfections. What matters is not what is deficient about us but about the way we build a life with relationships, appreciation, and gratitude.
Rabbi Evan J. Krame