THE HOLE IN THE BAGEL
Sukkot is called “the time of our rejoicing,” so this is a good time to take a deeper look at the nature of joy. The Jews are a paradoxical people: We have suffered greatly, yet we celebrate life to its fullest. How do these two features work together? Is joy escapism or is it transcendence?
A two-part sermon on feeling the joy of Sukkot – the first focused on the challenges of feeling happy in a time of an economic downturn, the second explaining why it is not possible to reach the necessary state of joy without tears.
PART I: THE HOLE IN THE BAGEL
Why is it that the national food of the Jewish people has a hole in the middle? Is it an accident or did we choose the bagel subconsciously… for what is says about us? Are we, or are we not, the people for whom something is always missing – who kvetch, complain and criticize? Or are we – as it so often appears – a resilient people, filled with wit and humor, able to cope, survive and even thrive through the greatest hardships? What defines the Jewish people – their misery or their joy? What, wonder the great bagel philosophers, makes the bagel – and what makes us: the “hole” or the “dough?”
Only those that experienced the “void” (the hole) can appreciate the “bread.” Therein lies the astonishing power of Jewish survival, as well as the surprising approach to today’s economic travails.
PART II: WHO NEEDS TEARS?
We are taught that what we can accomplish on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur through tears, we can accomplish on Sukkot through joy. But, if this is so, who needs tears? Why not just skip Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur and go straight to Sukkot?
But here’s the secret – you can’t reach the necessary state of joy unless you cry first. True joy is not about denial or escape. It is a celebration of the gift of life and the mission with which we are charged. Such joy comes hand in hand with accountability and responsibility. And it also comes with the need to be sensitive and, if necessary, to shed some tears over our lost opportunities and mistakes.
In other words, there is a time to cry and a time to rejoice, as a moving story from the Kovno Ghetto aptly illustrates.