Sukkot 5778
Rabbi Steinhardt's Sermons

Sukkot 5778

Over the last few weeks there was a problem in the Steinhardt home. Beginning with the Hurricane we, like most, lost our power. And like most, lost our cable and internet connections.

I called Comcast and after a few hours on the phone we determined that David Steinhardt could not fix this problem. Rather a tech had to come out to the house. A few days later, and still without “connection” the tech came. Ahhhhhh… what a relief! We were once again connected to the world; or so we thought. Within a day or two the computer slowed down, and we were only receiving two channels on TV… ESPN which was good… and Fox, which in our home felt like a curse!

So, I let a few days go. Yom Kippur was coming, and then the after-effects of exhaustion, and then on Monday, I called Comcast again. I don’t know if you have this issue… but once again I spent a few hours on the phone with a lovely woman from the Philippines and she finally said, Mr. Steinhardt unplug your router and cable box and bring them in. They are both faulty. Something happened to them after the power came back.

To make an even longer story shorter, we are now connected. With the news being what it is, I’m not sure if it wasn’t better to be unconnected, but being connected certainly makes us feel like a part of things.

Last week, we went through a holy day that helps us connect in a different way. We try to connect to our hearts, our conscience… and we try to connect to our souls and to our families and to God. Teshuvah’s purpose was to bring us from being unconnected to reconnecting. No wires… this is a wireless platform.

And now… a few days later and Its Sukkot. On this day we connect in another way. There are metaphorical readings and historical meanings about connections we make to our history and our experience of wandering. We are connecting to the natural world. We join together with friends and communities and connect again in the way of joy. After all this is Zman Simchateinu. The sukkah and the lulav and its branches, together with the etrog is also about feeling connected; that is, entering into a relationship with nature and with our fellow Jews and with God.

I once remember a sermon from years ago when the question was asked, what is the most important part of the lulav? And the answer was not the arovot, not the hadasim, not the lulav… but this woven piece, hubura, that we all know, that holds it all together.

You know, I’ve stated this here many times; the word religion is from the Latin and it means connection.

We’re living in a world of very loose connections. People are further and further away from community. Families are very dispersed. And it’s more and more difficult to find deeper spiritual connections. But also, particularly important on this, we are disconnected from the natural world.
How do we gain it? How did we lose it?

I learned about a psychological researcher named Brene’ Brown who studied this. She lectured and said: If you were to be evaluated and the supervisor, the boss, the teacher were to give you five great attributes that reflected you and your work, and then indicated ONE thing that needed improvement…that’s what would stick with you. It’s human nature. And it’s rooted in our fears and defenses, and insecurities.

When she asked people about love… almost all responded with stories about the times their hearts were broken; the loves lost. When she asked about belonging, most people spoke about the times they felt rejected. And when she asked about connection most people spoke about disconnection.

Perhaps we can say the same about “nature” – When asked about it – maybe we turn our thoughts to extreme natural occurrences. So she began to research this and what she learned and taught from her research I think is essential to us, to our tradition and to our holy days.

Connection, she taught unravels when we feel shame. And we all feel it. Shame is the feeling of being inadequate. We don’t quite match up! We’re not there enough, we’re not accomplished enough, we’re not beautiful enough, we’re not articulate enough, we’re not smart enough… I know you get it, because we all feel it at times.

In life here at the synagogue I’ve come to see this as the greatest detriment to people coming to pray. The words are foreign. People can’t read the language. People don’t know the melody. We can’t keep up. And so they don’t come… Because why go somewhere we feel inadequate?

Because in these situations we begin to feel we feel inadequate. And when we are inadequate we feel shame. And the underpinning of this shame is vulnerability. We don’t want to be vulnerable, that feels like a dangerous spot to be in.

We fear our vulnerability. But here’s the essence of the challenge… We can’t truly connect if we are NOT honest about our vulnerability. We can’t wholly love if we aren’t honest about are vulnerability. Because we have to really be willing to expose ourselves, to connect! And that means exposing our vulnerability and our fears. And we are afraid.

I thought about this as I thought about responses to the hurricane.

As I realized that there is a central message in this for Sukkot. Because amongst the different meanings of this holiday is that in a physical sense we are to confront our vulnerability.

We are to leave the comforts of our homes.
We are to confront the world of nature.

These days we have looked it in the face and we understand perhaps in a more acute way than ever, how vulnerable we are. And when we allow that to be felt, we enter into a different relationship with nature.

These storms have made me energized to confront our response to our environment. And it took this experience of vulnerability. The message in 2017, 5778, is to say that we have failed nature… and if we fail her, then it’s difficult to be in a sacred and loving relationship. When we realize our vulnerability we can reenter a relationship of love.

Brene’ Brown researched thousands of people and indicated: people who really feel worthy and feel like they belong have a great sense of love. She was talking about this in terms of relationships with people… and I think it’s also our world, this planet, yes… Mother Earth.

So Brown asks: what will it take to restore what is necessary to heal…
The first is COURAGE… and this isn’t the type of courage that is related to being a hero. This isn’t the guy who can do it all and face it all… This is another type of courage. Courage of the heart. This is being able to say: We have made serious mistakes. We have fouled our waters and our air and we are destroying the ozone layers… and we are responsible that means that means you are willing to admit you are vulnerable.

The days of denying man’s role in climate change are OVER!!!

I know there are some who wish to believe humans didn’t play a role, but that is simply misguided politics or repressive economics. The scientific research is here. We have to be courageous enough to say – We’ve been wrong – We made mistakes.

The second characteristic of those who feel they are worthy… truly worthy is that they are COMPASSIONATE. They approach all people with kindness. They open their hearts to all. So, the question is, can we open our hearts to the beauty of the natural world. Can we do this daily without going to exotic places. Can we see it as we drive down the road as we look outside? We need to love this earth, then we will stand up for her!

And the third according to Brown is CONNECTION… COURAGE, COMPASSION, and CONNECTION. That’s where we began this morning. That connection is what the Sukkah is calling us to feel… The lulav and its branches. The Etrog and its beauty is intended to remind us that we are connect to something very large. I was thinking. The lulav is our symbolic cable box and the sukkah is our symbolic modem. And together they are calling us, connecting us to the world of nature.

It is in the capacity to see the natural world and love it…knowing it can hurt us, but knowing all life is in it… That we allow this holiday to bring us into a sacred relationship.

What a beautiful world we live in… Unlike Comcast, it is urgent for us to know, that if we disconnect for too long, we will never be able to reconnect…