Chag Sameach everyone - wishing you a Happy Sukkot. Sukkot, of course, is the weeklong fall festival meant to celebrate the ancient harvest season, and recall the unique dwellings that our ancestors lived in as they wandered through the desert.
Sukkot is also the season dedicated to the waving of the lulav and etrog. For video of people shaking the lulav and etrog, click here. And if you really can't find your way to a sukkah over the holiday to shake the lulav and etrog, well...I guess you could click here to do it virtually with your iphone.
Our ancient Israelite ancestors shook the lulav and etrog primarily as a kind of a rain dance. The rainy season begins in Israel during this time of year. And our ancestors knew that for a healthy harvest next summer, the land needed exactly the right amount of rain in the coming winter. The shaking of the lulav and etrog is probably an expression of their desire for a healthy dose of rain.
We are like our ancestors: we don't know what the coming year will bring for us either. Will it be a comfortable and bountiful one, or will it be more austere? Will we be blessed with life and strength to make it through the winter to the springtime?
That being said, waving the lulav and etrog isn't really about asking for rain anymore. At least not to me. Because - frankly - I don't really believe that God is going to make it rain just because I ask God to. Rain happens for scientific/meteorological reasons.
But there's a part of me that still needs a reason to wave the lulav...for the ritual to make sense to me, I have to be asking/hoping for something.
Now I suppose I could (should!!) be waving the lulav for peace in the Middle East, or a cure for cancer.
But instead, I'll be waving the lulav and etrog in honor of my Philadelphia Phillies, who look like they could be cruising toward their third World Series appearance in as many years. (Tut tut tut...knock on wood...)
Now I know...it's sort of inappropriate for a clergyperson to encourage people to actively pray for their favorite sports team to win. That's not really what God is, after all. God doesn't take sides in Heaven. God isn't a Yankees fan or a Red Sox fan. God is God, and it cheapens the Holy One to think that God is rooting on any one team in particular.
That being said: I'll still be waving my lulav this year for the Phillies. I'll do it because this is the time of year, after getting through the High Holy Days, and as we prepare for the onset of Fall and Winter, when we are searching for some kind of reaffirmation...some verifiable sense that the world is in order, that our place in it is secure, and that will be blessed to live through to see another (baseball) season.
That reaffirmation can come from any number of sources. We can find it after having a spiritual experience in nature, or within a new or renewed relationship with a loved one.
But can't it also be found in sports? Think about the incredible high that we experience when our team wins a big game. It's not just a sense of jubilation because we won. It's also because - for a brief instant - the world makes sense. It is aligned as it should be. The good guys (our team) won. Life is good.
This reaffirmation is fleeting, to be sure. The glow from a big win only lasts a little while. But here's the good news: so does the sting of defeat. Our disappointment, when a sports team loses, or when we experience a more substantial 'life setback' is also only temporary. Because we know, deep down, that a new season - a new beginning - is always around the corner.
So, yeah, I'm going to wave my lulav for my Phillies this year. Because I'll hope - like I do every year around this time when they're playing well - that this will be a good year, my year, our year. That a win for my team will be the reaffirmation I am looking for, right now, that says: all is right and good in the world...That, because of a Phillies appearance in the World Series (even I'm too humble to pray for a World Series win), I might have the strength to keep on going, with a renewed sense of hope that I'll live to the springtime...to witness a new (baseball) season, and a whole new set of new beginnings once again.