I go to a synagogue that is home to a lot of intelligent people. I say that, not intending to insult any other synagogue, because the synagogue by its very nature attracts and keeps the intelligent. In my synagogue, the head Rabbi is a professor at a local Yeshiva and many members attend classes. This creates an atmosphere of competition that, in most cases, is very healthy. Whether it’s learning or exercising, we need someone [a buddy, if you will] on which to depend to spur us to greater heights. However, if the pursuit for greater knowledge is the end of the road… or perhaps better stated… if the pursuit of knowledge is the purpose of our lives, we are empty. In our attempts to gain more knowledge, do we allow the knowledge we gain to impact our lives? Is the hot pursuit of the next nugget of Truth diminishing our moments when we can sit and dwell in closeness with G-d?
Search for His closeness, not his truth
While the saying above may be interpreted as suggesting we should attend a Pentecostal church and drop off our brain at the door, this is not the intent of the quote. Instead, the quote is saying that if all we’re going to do is search for truth and knowledge, we’re wasting your time. Our whole goal in life is to approach and experience the Shechinah of Hashem – to feel closeness with G-d.
I became a bit depressed yesterday.
Yesterday evening, I attended the Erev Sukkot service at synagogue. The service began in the building and quickly moved out to the front lawn where some of the men built a sukkah that the children dressed and decorated. The chazzan waved the Lulav and Etrog as our representatives in the sukkah [the sukkah was eight foot square, perhaps]. We recited many prayers together, and then we adjourned to the comfort of the air conditioned building for the reminder of the service. I didn’t attend Oneg. I went home. Depressed.
My wife inquired as to my mournful face and I told her I had no idea why I was bummed. Overnight, I think I figured it out. We learn and do not act. We treat the High Holy Days as remembrances of ancient relics and they have no real impact on our lives.
When we lived up north, the weather [in my opinion] is perfect by now. The evenings are often cold, the leaves are turning colors, the biting insects have gone, and the daytime temperature is warm enough to enjoy a book under a shading tree. It’s the perfect time for camping. I would roll our GP Medium [military-grade] tent, pack up the kids, siddurim, random study books, and some snack food, and head off for an eight-day camping trip. We met others who wanted to camp during Sukkot as well and usually it was a great time. [The downside, however, is there were always a whack-a-doo or two there, but they’re always easy to avoid or to encourage to stay away.] We went to several states along the north 37th Parallel, and we usually had a great time.
By getting out of our comfort zone and temporarily dwelling in our tent [that had two flaps giving us a view of the starry sky], we were able to have an experience similar to our ancestors as they traveled under the protective gaze of our G-d. It always rained at least for one day, and I loved it. The Torah lesson transformed from written lines in a book to an experiential object lesson.
Seeing and hearing respectively correspond to Chachmah [wisdom] and Binah [understanding]. We experience kavanah with G-d with our understanding, but not with wisdom. When we recite the Shema in our prayers, we are to know and understand that “Shema” [hear] means “hear and know.” Not only are we to know G-d is One, we are to experience that G-d is One. With Wisdom we know, but it’s with understanding we experience G-d. In like manner, Sukkot was an event that affected our lives for eight full days. I miss the time when we would sit around and argue points of Torah, Halacha, or whatever.
In this Sukkot season, I hope we all experience G-d’s Shelter of Peace.
I’m going to finish the last few items on my sukkah. I hope the children finish their decorations; the rickety building needs their beautifying touch.
ufros aleynu sukkat shlomecha.
“Spread over us the shelter of your peace.”
 Author unknown
 “Shechinah” is one of many ways to transliterate a feminine Hebrew word meaning “dwelling” or “settling.” In Rabbinic literature, the word is used to denote the presence of G-d, especially in the Mishkan [Tabernacle] and the Mikdash [Temple] in Jerusalem. The Shechinah, in some rabbinic writings, represents the feminine attributes of G-d.
 The Feast of Tabernacles
 A chazzan is a cantor or musician who leads the congregation in singing the prayers.
 Lev 23.39-41
 A temporary structure
 Heb. Joy. This is a term used for the meal or snack we eat after services. It’s a great time to have fun and chat with friends.
 Prayer books
 Zech 14.17
 Shema: A prayer recited from Deuteronomy 6:4-9. Shema means “Hear.”
 Sukkat Shlomecha