Sukkot: A Reminder of Impermanence

The Jewish feast of Sukkot begins at sundown this evening. Sukkot is a reminder of the impermanent nature of all things. During this seven-day festival, Jews eat their meals in temporarily erected huts. This reminds them of their life in the desert – with no permanent place to live, no place to call home from one day to the next.

One rabbi had this to say about the festival of Sukkot: “At its heart, Sukkot is a time to recognize our impermanence, to celebrate together, and to reach into our own souls to find new meaning and new riches…. [All of the joy and celebration takes] place in the flimsiest, most vulnerable of structures, ..and you can see just how susceptible a Sukkah is to the weather…[O]ur holiday calls us to surround ourselves in impermanence—to allow ourselves to be vulnerable—and then to celebrate to our heart’s content.”

If we are spiritual people, then whatever our religion is, we are conscious that we are defined by more than our human existence. Indeed this current human existence of ours is a blip in the totality of life eternal. As my friend Joe observes, we are temporary visitors to this planet. We, of course, don’t tend to behave that way – our every day reality is that this is our life; it is, after all, (except for those who claim to have actually memories of past lives) the only life we know. But it is a short and temporary blip nonetheless.

The idea of impermanence captures this reality that all things in this world are transitory. And that implies a view about the relationship of the individual to the world, one that is captured in the idea of renunciation, a term that is easily misunderstood. We hear the word and we cringe, thinking it means we are not allowed to have things, or at least that we are not supposed to enjoy them. But renunciation is not about not enjoying what we have. Rather it is about understanding the transitory nature of worldly pleasure and understanding that there is something more needed to satisfy us – that, ultimately, to be truly happy, we need to turn from materialism to a life of spirit. And that is something that requires an intentional process of transformation.