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Sukkot: Leaving It All Behind

September 29, 2020 | by Emuna Braverman

We are moving from Los Angeles shortly after Sukkot and in the midst of packing everything up.

This year Sukkot has a particular poignancy. We came to Los Angeles 37 years ago just after Sukkot and we are leaving Los Angeles behind this year shortly after Sukkot. When we came here, we really knew no one and it was definitely very challenging. We are moving to be closer to our children and grandchildren but we know few others and it will be a different kind of challenge (although zoom classes have shown us it’s possible to stay connected across the miles – the one thing I’m not editing or decluttering are my friends and students!). It’s certainly a bit fortuitous that it’s happening at Sukkot time because Sukkot is the holiday where we focus on recognizing that all we need is God and putting our lives in His hands.

To deepen that awareness, we move out into our sukkah, taking with us only the bare necessities. We are focused on the spiritual and not the material, and certainly not on material excess. For us, this year, this realization is heightened by the process of packing. I thought I was pretty good at decluttering (my married kids are still mad that I didn’t save any of their elementary school projects) but not until we started getting ready to move did I realize how wrong I was! We have so much stuff! And it’s not easy to let go of it.

First the books. We have given so many away (the volunteer at Goodwill was really aghast when he saw what my husband brought) and yet there are so many we are reluctant to part with. As my husband said (while the kids guffawed), “Books are my friends.” We have whittled them down but there are still those moving novels, those spectacular photographs, and of course our vast library of Torah works. “Do we need them?” is of course the Sukkot question. Certainly not ultimately but would we be upset if we turned to look for them and they were gone (as opposed to sitting in boxes in our garage!)? Need is a very complicated and personal issue – Sukkot certainly forces us to grapple with it but the answers are neither pat nor always obvious.

What about all of our dishes – two sets for Pesach, two sets for weekday, one set for Shabbos? And the corresponding silverware, serving utensils, bowls and platters, the pots and the pans? Again, there will be a weeding process. I certainly don’t need all of them – but I like to entertain, and I like to host guests, and of course there will be those aforementioned kids and grandkids. It’s a mitzvah to be hospitable; we eat festive meals on Shabbos and holidays – even on Sukkot I schlep my china outside because it’s still a Yom Tov – so how ruthless should I be? I think it’s not only about need; it can be about beautifying the mitzvah. Just like we buy attractive esrog boxes, we want attractive Shabbos tables, Pesach dishes and so on. Will it still be Shabbos without those things? Yes, but if we can elevate the experience…I’m giving away some but Sukkot lessons or no Sukkot lessons, the dishes stay.

What about the clothing? I can’t make any convincing argument that I need all my shoes (!) – or my clothes for that matter. But I think that Jewish women should dress in a way that is appealing – to their husbands and to the outside world – okay, I may have taken this idea to the extreme!

And finally, there is the furniture. In one of my favorite books, “All for The Boss”, they had an opportunity to get a new dining room table. But Rabbi Hermann didn’t want to since that was the table where they had hosted so many guests – from Torah dignitaries to the homeless. I have no such sentimentality. What’s new I keep; what’s old goes. This was the easiest aspect of the packing process. It was much clearer what we needed (even though those old beds need to go and we will have to get new ones) and what we didn’t (and my daughter is working Facebook Marketplace to help sell all the extras).

I’ve made a discovery during this process. Many of my children have been pestering me for years to adopt a more minimalist aesthetic. I have stubbornly rejected it. But now that I see my house without all the shelves, the rooms seem so much more open, the space lighter and airier. While this is a physical perspective as opposed to a spiritual one, I think it has spiritual implications.

I think it may be easier to think and to grow and to expand who we want to be in an atmosphere that reflects that, in a home that conveys a sense of possibility as opposed to a sense of the walls closing in around you (I exaggerate slightly).

Recognizing this, I hope (and definitely pray) that our move will also open up many possibilities – for learning, for growth, for expansion, for rediscovery and for reinvention.

Jews don’t believe in coincidences. We recognize the real power behind the scenes. I have no doubt that the Master Engineer saw to it that our move would take place around Sukkot time so that our physical efforts would match our spiritual ones and so that the greatest lessons could be learned.

Photo Credit: Michal Balog, Unsplash



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