Two people greet me first thing every morning before I start my daily work. There is the homeless man who sleeps on the embankment of the canal outside my door, and the cleaner who is just finishing his night shift.
Without fail, each and every day the homeless man—wrapped in a soiled wool coat many sizes too big, a deep scar cutting through his left cheek—lifts his head from his latent position, and through his crooked teeth, says cheerfully in his Brooklyn accent, “Good morning, sunshine!” Every morning it is the same three words, and then, as though I had never passed, he puts his head back down between his knees and returns to his dreams. I am told his name is Joe. I throw a half-smile in his general direction, and rush on towards my car.
The office building is deserted at 6:30 in the morning. The only sound as I walk slowly through the otherwise silent halls is the low hum of the cleaner’s raspy voice as he sings his favorite Bob Marley tunes quietly to himself. I pass him as I make my way up the long hall, and he hastily stops his work, greets me by my name with his bent smile, and stands back against the wall and lets me pass, remaining in that position until I reach my office door. Each morning he takes the time to greet me by my first name, and yet, as I pass him today, I cannot seem to recall his name.
As I sit back in my chair behind my large oak desk, waiting for Windows to load, I wonder when I had become so conceited. Where had this feeling of superiority come from? What is it that makes me believe, even for even a fleeting moment, that I am better than those two men? That they don’t deserve my attention? That I don’t even take the time to learn their full names? Who am I trying to fool? Why should I assume that I am greater than Joe the homeless guy who sleeps by my door, or the cleaner who picks up after me? They have their place in the world, as do I. I may not envy their work or their lifestyles, but I do know one thing: I am in no place to judge them, or assume that I know the type of people they are.
Why are we so quick to try and establish barriers, to separate ourselves from our neighbors, our workers and our peers? Do we not realize that it is separation that destroys us? Has it not already been proven, time and time again, that it is such demarcations which are hurting our people by slowly sucking out blood, until we are all so estranged and divided that we stand completely alone?
I am to blame as much as anyone else, but it is the festival of Sukkot which comes as a pointed reminder of the error in our ways; such is the power of Sukkot. Amidst a world of intolerance, rivalry and distinctions, Sukkot comes as a reminder of the value of unanimity and the beauty of every man. On Sukkot we abandon our homes, our rigid lifestyle, the physical rudiments which serve to divide us from our neighbors, and we move into the sukkah, a temporary dwelling place where status and position counts for naught. All differences are put aside, all barriers broken, as man and man come together to acknowledge the one thing that unites us—our quintessential souls.
It is only once we regain our true perspective that we are able to achieve the highest level of unity—namely, when our individuality is celebrated within the framework of a tight-knit community. When distinctions are glorified rather than eliminated, when our differences are venerated rather than stamped out. For it is only with the recognition of our inimitability that we are able to create the perfect whole, and it is only with this understanding that true unity can be achieved.
That is the message of the “Four Kinds” of plants which we are instructed to take in hand each day of the festival of Sukkot. We take the harmonious perfection of the etrog, sweet in both taste and smell, and we hold it next to the tall, straight lulav, the symbol of pervasive wisdom and knowledge. We shake them together with the hadas, the embodiment of activity and life, and we bind them together with the aravah, the archetype of true humility. As these four plants are being shaken as one, we are finally able to reach the ideal state of perfection. Each fruit offers something the others lack, and it is precisely through this they contribute to the union of Israel. It is only through the salutation of individuality that we are able to unite the Four Kinds and form a picture of perfection.
On Sukkot we do not discard that which is different, but rather we embrace it. On the festival of joy, we bring the diverse community together, breaking through barriers of division to unite. We take the four dissimilar plants, and we bind them together for a single purpose. As we take the Four Kinds into our hands, and shake them together under the sukkah roof, we are effectively saying that through our differences, we are one.
|By Chana Graj More articles… |
Chana Graj, a native of Melbourne, Australia is currently working for Chabad of Hawaii until she begins her studies at Melbourne Law School in March, 2007. She is an aspiring lawyer and writer, is named after Rebbetzin Chana, the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s mother, whom she regards as her role model.