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A Sukkah of Peace

September 21, 2009 | by Slovie Jungreis-Wolff

Finding serenity under the stars.

Warren Buffet says that we have gone through an economic Pearl Harbor. We've read about our ‘financial tsunami', ‘recession sized depression', and ‘crisis of a lifetime'. I glance at today's paper and the New York Times screams out at me: "Jobless, Sleepless, Hopeless".

"I am not married, my parents have passed away, so I am quite scared of what will happen if I do not land a job within the next couple of months...The thing I identified with most -- my work -- has left me feeling lost."

We have come to define ourselves through our jobs and our bank accounts and when that is diminished we feel ourselves diminished as well. We live in a society where we equate our possessions with our self worth.

The article goes on to say that the Rutgers University survey of the unemployed found most respondents lives corroded by despair.

77% say they are stressed.
68% are depressed.
61% feel helpless.
55% are angry.
54% feel hopeless.

We are living through most challenging times. If you're not worried then you surely know someone who is. Those who never had to think twice now bag their lunch and hold back on vacations, new clothing, and eating out. Debt collectors call about missed credit card payments and mortgages. Tuition bills loom as parents stay awake wondering how they will manage it all. We are witness to personal devastation and it is a frightening sight to behold.

Without Peace <

Where can we possibly find peace?

There is yet another type of anguish that erodes the home. When couples live with strife, when we knock each other down through biting words or long silent treatments, fissures form in our marriage. This is one battle that never yields any winners. There are, sadly, only losers. Destructive emotions in our homes destroy all that is sacred and holy inside. The lights within begin to dim.

Dear Slovie, I am having a hard time falling asleep. My husband is not talking to me. He ignores me in front of our children or talks to me through them. We had a big fight, I don't even know about what anymore. I am so anxious. Help me.

It is more than just a job or a good night's sleep that we are seeking. We are seeking serenity. In Hebrew it's called ‘menuchat hanefesh' -- peace within our soul. But in this difficult world of ours where can we possibly find peace?

A Spiritual Embrace

How easy it would be to just give up and say, "It is what it is." But we Jews never give up. We never lose hope. Inside each and every one of us lies a flicker of a light; a spark that never dies. And as we kindle our Shabbat and holiday candles, we bring blessing and light into our lives even though it may feel as if we are living in the blackest of nights. Dawn brings its radiant glow only after the night seems long and unilluminated.

Bearing this faith we are now ready to enter the sukkah, dwelling under God's protection. The Torah tells us that for one week we are to leave our permanent homes and live in a temporary residence. We eat in the sukkah, we talk in the sukkah, we read in the sukkah, and some people even sleep in the sukkah. As comfortable as we may feel inside its walls, we never really forget that this sukkah-dwelling is only temporary. Now we get it! Our world here is only a temporary residence.

Nothing lasts forever. We are simply visitors, just passing through.

Material security is left behind as we contemplate our spiritual security. The sukkah replaces our homes and we are struck with the thought that ‘all this' is transient. Nothing lasts forever. We are simply visitors, just passing through.

And all those things that we thought were so important? Those things we craved and thought we just can't live without? The giant flat screen TV, the leather sofa for our den, the must-have sweater and shoes? Guess what? They are not important anymore.

In this temporary residence, we are forced to ask these life changing questions: What have I devoted myself to? What can I never live without? What happens when I leave my possessions behind? What remains of me? I am forced to confront myself and ask: "Who am I?"

Am I not so much greater than the amount of money I earn or the type of car that I drive?

A New Yorker I know spent the summer in Jerusalem. She lived with a family in their tiny apartment, loving each and every moment. She studied Torah and immersed herself in Judaism for the very first time in her life. When she returned to her Madison Avenue apartment, she could not believe how much time she had been giving to thinking about the shade of her wood floors and grand kitchen renovation.

"What was I busy with? How much time did I devote to nonsense? Who needs all this? I was dedicating myself to my body while neglecting my soul."

Sitting in the sukkah under the stars, we realize that possessions and stuff do not bring peace. That life in this world is transient and we will never find serenity in that which is fleeting. We can understand that it's living with purpose that will bring us a sense of lasting peace.

What Really Counts

You're sitting in your sukkah surrounded by family and friends. As you look around, you realize the bottom line -- this is what counts in life. Here lies my legacy and all the rest just doesn't matter.

The fight that you had with your husband over taking out the garbage or the argument you had with your wife because she forgot to pick up your suit from the dry cleaners just isn't worth it. Why hurt the ones I love?

According to Jewish law, our sukkah must have at least three walls. It is as if God is wrapping his arm around you, welcoming you with His embrace. Come, step out of your home and all the anxiety that lies within. Never stop believing. Never give up hope. You are here for a reason. Think about your legacy, the purpose of your moments here on earth.

As we enter the sukkah, we offer a most beautiful prayer: "May it be your will, my God and God of my forefather's, that You cause Your Presence to reside amongst us; that You spread over us the sukkah of Your peace..."

Enter your sukkat shalom,'your sukkah of peace. Each day, as you sit inside its walls, take a moment. Look around. See the blessings that surround you. Define your mission; seek true purpose in your days.

We have all been given tools to fulfill our own personal mission. Not so that we may accumulate possessions or live for temporary pleasures. Our sukkah helps us focus on that which is everlasting; our spiritual goals. It helps us focus on the blessings and joy that lie right before our eyes. We can then realize a sense of serenity and peace that has long been elusive.

And when the holiday is over don't forget that you have been embraced in a place filled with God's presence. Hold onto your sukkah of peace and allow it to guide your journey throughout the year.

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