Tag Archives: Yom Kippur

#TieBlog #Aharei Mot

11 Apr
Goats sacrificed on Yom Kippur

Goats sacrificed on Yom Kippur

On this Shabbat HaGadol, the “Great Sabbath” prior to Passover, our Torah reading, Parashat Aharei Mot, takes us to the opposite pole of the Jewish calendar. The reading describes the elaborate rites carried out by the kohanim (priests), and particularly the High Priest, on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. At the center of the the atonement rituals we find goats. In his Yom Kippur Mahzor commentary, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks comments on the words shnei se’irei izim, two goats (Leviticus 16:5) that served different roles in the atonement ritual.

Rabbi Sacks writes: “The two goats were identical in appearance but different in their fate. One was sacrificed to God, the other–the “scapegoat”–was sent into the desert. They represent, respectively, the polarities of the human condition: on the one hand sanctity and order, symbolized by the Tabernacle; on the other, formlessness and void, symbolized by the desert. The ceremony of the two goats is similar to the acts of separation and division that took place during creation (Gen. 1). They represent the light and darkness within the human personality. The darkness–sin–is sent into the dark: the desert with its dangers. The light–the gift of love we bring to God when we offer Him a sacrifice–is transmuted by divine fire into forgiveness and love” (Koren-Sacks Yom Kippur Mahzor, p. 729.).

The goats on my tie are not your average “Billy Goats Gruff.” They are goats of personal transformation and renewal.

14 Mar
Memorial to Malaysian Airlines Flight 370.

Memorial to Malaysian Airlines Flight 370.

Where is that airplane, and why did it disappear? The mysterious loss of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 continues to vex security and transportation officials, leaders of government and people of good will around the world. Recent reports suggest that the lost aircraft was airborne for several hours after contact was lost with it and that it had flown west over the Indian Ocean. The prospect of foul play, therefore, seems more ominous. For the passengers on the plane, what did they know what was happening to them and when did they know it? On 9/11, many passengers aboard the four hijacked airplanes were able to communicate with loved ones with their mobile phones before dying. We know that they knew. We don’t as yet have such evidence from Flight 370. At the same time, on this Shabbat Zakhor, we recall acts of terror carried out by violent enemies against our people. The ominous possibility that acts of terror in the skies claimed the lives of innocent people gives us the chills. Even if the fate of the aircraft was a result of mechanical failure, let’s reflect a bit further on what the men and women on board may have been thinking.

The prospect of facing certain death and reflecting on it over a period of hours or minutes is terrifying. On Yom Kippur in 1986, Rabbi Kenneth Berger addressed this very issue at Congregation Rodeph Shalom in Tampa. In a now famous sermon titled “Five Minutes to Live,” Rabbi Berger reflected on the seven astronauts of the Space Shuttle Challenger who perished in the disaster earlier that year. Evidence was found that the astronauts did not die in the explosion but when the capsule impacted the ocean waters. Rabbi Berger said, “For perhaps as much as five minutes, the astronauts were alive and conscious and yet knew that death was certain.”

Rabbi Berger then asked his congregation to consider the question: “What would you do if you had five minutes to live?” He challenged his congregation to live their lives as though they had five minutes left. Not in a cynical way by saying, “What’s the point?” But in a spiritual way; a way that will help us channel our direction. He spoke about serving God in those five minutes and expressing our love for our loved ones.

Less than three years later, in July 1989, Rabbi Berger was with his wife and two of his children on United Airlines flight 232 to Philadelphia. After the engines failed, the flight was forced to make an emergency landing.

In the crash landing 185 out of 285 passengers were killed, including Rabbi Berger and his wife, Aviva, while their children survived. During those moments as the plane was descending rapidly to an uncertain fate, Rabbi Berger probably thought about his own sermon.

On this Shabbat Zakhor, Erev Purim, we reflect on the fragility and preciousness of life. The mitzvah of remembrance is to remind us that innocent lives lost long ago are precious. We resolve to maintain the flame of memory in order to make meaning out of our lives. Why do we have Shabbat Zakhor before Purim? Wouldn’t it make sense to fold the themes of this Shabbat into the somber day of Yom Kippur?

It turns out, there is a strange nexus between Purim and Yom Kippur. Both holidays remind us to ask ourselves what we would do if we had five minutes to live. Various sources in our tradition highlight the connection between Purim and Yom Kippur.

The rabbis of the Midrash ask: “What was the good name that [Esther] earned for herself? That all the festivals may be nullified, but the days of Purim will never be nullified… Rabbi Eliezer says, Yom Kippur, too, will not be nullified. (Midrash – Yalkut Shimoni, Esther 944)

Furthermore, according to the Zohar, the Hebrew name for Yom Kippur — Yom KipPURIM — alludes to the similarity between these two seemingly dissimilar days. Yom KipPURIM [literally means] “a day that is like Purim.” It seems incongruous that a day of joyous revelry and a day of awesome introspection should be more similar to one another than any of the other festivals to one another. What is it about Purim and Yom Kippur that create this relationship?

As Rabbi Sharon Brous writes, “The reversibility of fortune, the capriciousness of life, is a message Purim shares with Yom Kippur…Yom Kippur compels us to reflect on the unavoidable uncertainty of our lives. But on Yom Kippur we dive into this terrifying reality with austerity, reflection and spiritual wakefulness, whereas on Purim we respond by celebrating, imbibing and masquerading.”

Yom Kippur and Purim ask the common question: “What would I do if I had five minutes to live?” Both holidays acknowledge the frailty and uncertainty of life. The answers offered by each holiday, however, seem diametrically opposed to each other.

Yet Yom Kippur is more than a day of somber reflection; it is a Yom Tov, a festival, when we celebrate being cleansed of sin. At the same time, Purim is more than a day of rowdy gluttony. Our tradition has bestowed us with mitzvot, commandments, to perform acts of generosity and community building on Purim: “Make them days of feasting and gladness and of mishloah manot (sending portions of food) one to another, and matanot l’evyonim (gifts to the poor)” (Esther 9:22). As Rabbi Brous writes, “We embrace the confusion and moral ambiguity of Purim with a renewed commitment to social transformation, responding to the mess of life by giving our family and friends sweet gifts and by giving generously to the poor. In other words, the only way to make sense of the absurd randomness of life and the social order is to honor the loving relationships that sustain us and work to address the imbalance of fortunes that leaves some with abundance and others with nothing. Mishloah manot and matanot l’evyonim come to reinforce that while we cannot control the world, we can control the way we live in it.”

When we give to others on Purim, we acknowledge our lack of control over our destinies. After all, life can change drastically in the span of just five minutes. Therefore, we must give generously today, for tomorrow, God forbid, we could be begging for a little spare change.

Three years before his death, Rabbi Berger had the foresight to remind himself and the broader community that life is not forever and that he only had a proverbial five minutes left.” The same is true for us.

On this Shabbat Zakhor, our thoughts are with the families of loved ones on Flight 370 who must be in unbearable pain. Let us resolve to make sure our leaders are vigilant against senseless acts of violence and terror. Let us also resolve to bring more love and kindness into the world.

We might not realize it yet, but we all only have five minutes left. The clock is ticking….

Writing the Next Act on Yom Kippur

15 Sep
Sam Lesner, my grandfather, had a storied career as the film and entertainment critic for the Chicago Daily News. Here he is (seated on right in checkered blazer) with  other reporters interviewing Julie Andrews in Austria on the set of "The Sound of Music." Sam began his career by reviewing the Yiddish Theater.

Sam Lesner, my grandfather, had a storied career as the film and entertainment critic for the Chicago Daily News. Here he is (seated on right in checkered blazer) with other reporters interviewing Julie Andrews in Austria on the set of “The Sound of Music.” Sam began his career by reviewing the Yiddish Theater.

This sermon was published in the Huffington Post. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rabbi-edward-bernstein/yom-kippur_b_3916468.html

A slightly updated and corrected version appears below.

Writing the Next Act on Yom Kippur
Rabbi Edward C. Bernstein
September 15, 2013

I recently discovered some lost treasures. My late grandfather, Sam Lesner, of blessed memory, came back to life after 23 years when I heard his voice once again after finding and digitizing some old cassette tapes. My Grandpa Sam was the film and entertainment critic of the former Chicago Daily News. In the early 1930’s, while working in an entry-level job filing clippings in the newspaper’s library, it became known to the editors that he was a trained musician and that he was fluent in Yiddish. As a result, his first “beat” was covering Chicago’s Yiddish theater and reviewing these productions. Nearly fifty years later, he recalled the golden years of Chicago’s Yiddish theater in a lecture to the Chicago Jewish Historical Society. A cassette tape of that lecture in November, 1978, is among the old tapes that I rediscovered this summer. He opened this lecture as follows:

“It has been written that ‘[a]ll the world is a stage, and all the men and women merely the players’ (Shakespeare). For Jews everywhere, that is more than a literary catch phrase. It’s a philosophy for living, for surviving. For, do we not daily reenact our traditions? Do we not daily reenact our faith? And do we not daily rededicate ourselves to continuity of a vast, varied and colorful heritage, the Jewish heritage?

Grandpa Sam continues, “It has also been written that ‘[t]here is that smaller world which is the stage, and that larger stage which is the world.'” (Isaac Goldberg, early 20th century journalist)

“And yet another sage has written the theater is not a game. It is a spiritual compulsion. Once it celebrated the gods. Now it broods over the fate of man. Mensch trocht, Gott lacht (Man plans, God laughs).”

My Grandpa Sam’s voice emerged from the past to discuss the vital role of theater in capturing the human condition and the remarkable interplay between the theater and Jewish values. In reflecting on this lecture, I’m reminded that Yom Kippur is a play of sorts. Each one of us is a player, and we are acting out our own deaths. We wear white costume, just like we dress a loved one to be buried. We have a script, the mahzor (High Holiday prayer book), that guides us with language to confess our sins, just as one does before dying. We fast and deprive ourselves of bodily pleasures that the dead don’t enjoy. We can call these rituals method acting. If ever there was a day to act out as if it’s our last, it’s today, Yom Kippur. Everything up until now has been Act I, maybe also Act II. We can shape the next act and how we interact with the characters in our lives.

Over the High Holy Days, we prepare to raise the curtain on the next act. We reflect on how we can live a life that matters in which we enrich our lives through our relationships with others. In that context, if today were our last day, what would we do to ensure such a legacy? Would we seek to settle old scores and exact revenge for past wrongs done to us? Would we do nothing because a day is too short for anything meaningful? Chances are, we’ve tried those scripts already, and they’re getting stale.

On Yom Kippur, our day of renewal, our tradition provides us with stage directions and a powerful script. The day is further enriched by the improvisational theater that we provide ourselves.

Our stage directions that we’ve inherited call on us to emulate the Master Player on our world’s stage, God. The Torah instructs us lalechet bidrachav, to walk in the ways of God. In the 13 divine attributes, God tells us in the Torah that He is El rachum v’chanun, merciful and gracious God, erekh apayim v’rav hesed v’emet, slow to anger and abounding in loving kindness and truth. The Midrash says, mah Hashem rachum v’chanun, af ata tehiye rahum v’chanun. Just as God is merciful and compassionate, so too you should be merciful and compassionate (Sifre Devarim, Ekev).

Next, we turn to the script of our tradition. The mahzor attempts to capture the complexity of God that we strive to emulate. As I wrote for Rosh HaShanah, in the Un’tane Tokef prayer, we declare that God is zokher kol ha nishkachot, God remembers everything that has been forgotten. In other words, God is the ultimate data bank of everything in human history. Or is He?

God is a versatile cast member who plays many parts. Our rich liturgy offers another metaphor: not God the data bank, but God the parent who uses selective memory. Avinu Malkeinu, zochreinu b’zikkaron tov lefanecha—Our Father Our King, remember us before You with a good memory. Use Your selective memory, God, for good. God knows how to let go, but do we?

Here’s a classic story about not using selective memory. A man complained to his friend that whenever his wife gets angry, she becomes historical. “You mean hysterical,” the friend corrected him. “No,” said the husband, “I mean historical. She starts listing everything I did wrong in the middle of an argument that begins with: “You always…” or “You never….”

Why do we opt for the blame game script? We do so because this satisfies our sense of outrage and indignation. Since we are the injured party, we feel righteous. Our victimhood makes us morally superior as we look down with scorn on the person who hurts us. It provides us with the weapon of guilt to use against the offender. Our mahzor script invites us through prayer to think differently.

Since we pray, and since the rabbis envision us imitating God’s best attributes, the rabbis reach the conclusion that God also prays. The question is what, and to whom, does God pray?

“The rabbis ask: What does God pray? May it be My will that My mercy may suppress My anger, and that My mercy may prevail over My [other] attributes, so that I may deal with My children through the attribute of mercy and, on their behalf, stop short of the limit of strict justice.” (Babylonian Talmud, Berakhot 7a)

God understands the enormous negative power of anger and so He prays to be rid of it. God’s vulnerability is a mirror image of our own. God models for us openness to vulnerability and change. So, having engaged with stage directions and a rich script, we now have the task of turning to “improv.”

The renowned Hasidic rabbi and psychiatrist, Abraham Twerski, provides some guidance on how we can essentially write our own play, or at least the next act. He writes about some of his patients feeling paralyzed by resentment and the liberation that forgiveness brings about. He quotes one of his patients saying: “I came to realize that hanging on to anger was not affecting the people who hurt me. They don’t have headaches, indigestion, or insomnia. I do. Why should I suffer because of their wrong behavior? So I just stopped thinking about them, and my anger evaporated. Hanging onto resentment is akin to letting people you don’t like live rent-free inside your head without paying rent. I’m not the kind of person to let people do that, so I evicted them from my head.”

Rabbi Twerski’s anecdote resonated with me earlier this spring in a deeply personal way. I was forced to confront a demon from my life’s first act that was occupying space in my head without paying rent, and I suddenly had to do some “improv” to chart my path. A guy I went to school with from pre-school through high school sent me a friend request over Facebook. It gave me great pause. My recollection is that from preschool through fifth grade this fellow teased me relentlessly. In later grades, the memories of those early years haunted me. We then went our separate ways, and I haven’t seen him since high school. However, as I moved through adulthood and became an educator, any time I encountered the concept of bullying, the image that came to mind was being tormented by this fellow when we were young boys. In recent years, as I connected with more and more friends from childhood on Facebook, I noticed that several old friends from school were friends with my old nemesis. While I have many Facebook friends whom I barely know, I just couldn’t pull the trigger and send him a friend request. My image of this guy from 35 years ago was renting space in my mind. Then, out of the blue, he asked me to be his Facebook friend. Part of me wanted to accept it right away, but I also wanted to take advantage of this opportunity to ask him to bear witness to my pain. I felt it was the honest thing to do.

I wrote him an email. I hit the send button. Then I waited. The next day, I officiated at a funeral. At the cemetery, I finished the service and walked from the grave site to my car. I pulled out my phone to check my email. I saw there was a response to my Facebook message. Despite the long car ride back home ahead of me, I had to read it in full. It was a beautiful, contrite letter that was completely validating. The writer not only apologized for the way he made me feel, but out of his own initiative he went on to describe in vivid, accurate, detail a specific incident from childhood in which he teased me and his deep regret over it. He concluded his letter: “I do understand. I do acknowledge. I am sorry.” I accepted his friend request.

I couldn’t have staged the scene any better. I was sitting in a cemetery. It was the perfect setting to bury the fear, dislike and distrust I had of this person for most of my life. I felt the curtain rising on a new act. I was so moved by the risk this man took in “friending” me, for his courage in responding to me, and for his eloquent and humble note. I said the blessing of thanksgiving:

Praised are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of the universe, who has given us life and sustained us and allowed us to reach this moment. It was liberating writing back and officially forgiving him and signing off as “Your Friend.”
If life is a play that is carried out on the world’s stage, then sometimes we have to consider that our total life experiences up to the present moment are only the first or second act. We have the ability to shape the next act.

For those of us who have unresolved tensions with people who are living, the time is NOW to get to work towards healing. Our loved ones whom we lovingly recall in Yizkor would expect nothing less from us. We can write the next act of our lives.

Writing a successful next act requires teshuvah, a complete return to shleimut, wholeness or integrity. This process includes saying selichah, I’m sorry, to others for wrongs we’ve committed towards them, and it includes granting mechilah, forgiveness to others for their slights towards us. We say to God, “Selah lanu, mehal lanu, kaper lanu, forgive us, pardon us grant us atonement.” What we expect of God, we must also demand of ourselves.

So, those of us giving free rent in our minds to the anger and resentment that we hold towards someone, we give ourselves a gift to evict those thoughts. Let’s change the script from a tragedy to a story with a happier ending. If there are relatives or friends with whom there is unresolved tension, speak to them on Yom Kippur or immediately thereafter. Say that you’ve given thought to your relationship and want a fresh start. Each of us can raise the curtain on a new act.

We recall our departed loved ones on Yom Kippur because we acknowledge our own mortality. We are acting today as if it is our last day. Recognizing our mortality, as we do now, reminds us of the urgency to change our ways. It may be the last act.

Let us honor the memory of our loved ones with a Jewish Tony Award of zikkaron tov, remembering them for their goodness. Let us bring zikkaron tov, good memories, into our present relationships. Let us not live like we’re going through the motions on stage. Let us live a life that matters.

#TieBlog #YomKippur #Goats

11 Sep
Goats for Yom Kippur

Goats for Yom Kippur

The goats on my tie are of course in honor of the goats of the ancient Yom Kippur ritual in the Temple. This ritual is mentioned in the Torah:

Leviticus, Chapter 16: “7 Aaron shall take the two he-goats and let them stand before the Lord at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting; 8 and he shall place lots upon the two goats, one marked for the Lord and the other marked for Azazel. 9 Aaron shall bring forward the goat designated by lot for the Lord, which he is to offer as a sin offering; 10 while the goat designated by lot for Azazel shall be left standing alive before the Lord, to make expiation with it and to send it off to the wilderness for Azazel.”

We no longer have the Temple nor this arcane ritual. We instead offer our sincere prayers, fasting and genuine teshuvah (return to the ways of God). May we be inscribed for life and good health.

My relationship with Chicago’s baseball teams: It’s complicated

7 Aug
Opening night at Chicago's Wrigley Field, 8/8/88

Opening night at Chicago’s Wrigley Field, 8/8/88

Twenty-Five years ago today, 8/8/88, the Chicago Cubs turned the lights on for the first time for a night game at Wrigley Field. At the time, I identified as a die-hard Cubs fan. As a native South-Sider, however, I found myself in adulthood gravitating towards the White Sox as the first box score I check in the morning. The White Sox won the 2005 World Series. More recently, the Chicago Blackhawks won their second Stanley Cup in four years, so all of Chicago’s major sports teams have won at least one championship in my lifetime–except the Cubs. What’s more, they haven’t even won a championship in the lifetime of my 99-year-old grandmother. On this momentous anniversary in Chicago sports, here is a sermon that I delivered eight years ago in Cleveland after the White Sox won the pennant in which I describe my complicated relationship with Chicago’s two baseball teams.

Baseball and Sukkot: Lessons in Irony
Rabbi Edward C. Bernstein

This past Monday night as we sat down in our Sukkot for the first time this year, we said the traditional sheheheyanu prayer of thanksgiving in which we express our gratitude to God for giving us life and sustaining us and allowing us to reach this occasion. For me, this blessing had special significance. You see, as a native of Chicago I entered Sukkot with the knowledge that for the first time in my life, a Chicago baseball team was going to play in the World Series. Tonight, the Chicago White Sox face the Houston Astros in their return to the World Series for the first time since 1959 and seek to win their first championship since 1917. I am still pinching myself that this is really happening.

Some of you may be sitting here wondering, isn’t Bernstein a Cubs fan? Two years ago he was kvetching about the Cubs falling short, now we’ve got to hear about the White Sox!? It is complicated, I admit. But the confluence of the White Sox winning the pennant with both Yom Kippur and Sukkot have forced me to reflect on the religious significance of this historical moment in my life.

First, Yom Kippur. It was only a week ago, after all, and the spirit of confession is still in the air. Furthermore, our tradition holds that final, final judgments aren’t made until Hoshana Rabba, the last day of Sukkot, and that it is appropriate to offer confessions through that time. So, I have a confession to make. I always liked the Cubs and the White Sox, but having grown up on the South Side of Chicago, I was originally more of a Sox fan than a Cubs fan. In 1984, when the Cubs made a valiant run for the pennant, I shifted my allegiance to the Cubs. For many White Sox fans, including close members of my own family, this was utter heresy. They accused me of being a fair-weather fan. For various reasons that I won’t burden you with now, I don’t think this was the case. For one thing, time has proven that I have stuck with the Cubs for over 20 mostly futile years. Nevertheless, I have retained an affinity for the White Sox. While they don’t always have the glitz or media attention of the Cubs, there is a certain charm about them. As the second team of the Second City, they are very much the team of common working folks, who, with some justification, see the Cubs as an elitist team that excludes working fans by playing mostly day games. While I think the Cubs’ commitment to baseball in the daytime is family friendly and good for children, I have always respected the loyal White Sox fan. The problem is that over the years their teams have been so darn boring. Until this year.

A few weeks ago as the Cleveland Indians, the team of my adopted hometown, made a serious challenge to overtaking the Chicago White Sox, I was forced to reflect more closely on my views of the White Sox. As my official biography on the Shaarey Tikvah web site notes, I am a Cubs fan. This year, though, with the tremendous season enjoyed by the White Sox, I have been repeatedly asked by members of this congregation how I feel about it. My stock answer has been that I am a Cubs fan, but still support the Sox. Of course, I was rooting for the Indians to make the playoffs, but not at the expense of the Sox. My public confession is that I have a complicated history in rooting for the White Sox, and I hope they win.

With Yom Kippur out of the way, let me turn to Sukkot. Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret are both known as z’man simchateinu, the season of our joy. Certainly, for Chicago White Sox fans, this is a great season of joy. Yet, the name z’man simchateinu is somewhat of a paradox. In Chicago, people are excited about playing a summertime sport on a 40-degree, drizzly October night in Chicago. Furthermore, the history of Chicago sports, particularly baseball, is one of such futility, Chicagoans have a fatalistic attitude. We question if this is really happening and if a World Series victory will ever actually occur. Is another Black Sox scandal looming, God forbid? Will an innocent fan interfere with the game and lead to defeat, as happened with the Cubs two years ago? Will the Sox continue to benefit from the umpires’ calls or will they go against them this time? Or, more prosaically, will the Houston pitching simply be better than their own? If they fail this year to win it all, will it take another 46 years to get this far?

A Bartlett Giamatti, the late Commissioner of Major League Baseball, once wrote about baseball:

“It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone.”

Giamatti, a New Englander and former president of Yale University, wrote these words in the 1970s after his beloved Boston Red Sox endured another season of just falling short. Little did he know then that Boston would eventually win a World Series in 2004, after an 86 year drought. This year, it is Chicago that seeks to end an 88-year drought, but Giamatti’s fatalistic attitude resonates for us Chicagoans. There is a great paradox in rooting for a Chicago baseball team in October: abundant joy and hope mingled with fatalism and doubt.

Indeed, this paradox precisely parallels the rituals associated with Judaism’s season of joy. For seven days, we leave the comfort of our homes and dwell in sukkot, fragile, open-air booths. We do this not in the summer months when it would be more convenient, but in the fall when the weather is much more capricious. We do not pamper ourselves with luxuries or recline like we do on Passover. The sukkah reminds us not of our strength and security, but of our vulnerability.

There are other practices that contradict the nickname z’man simchateinu. Every day of Sukkot we beseech God, Hosha Na, please save us! In the season of our joy, one of the holiday’s central liturgical pieces cries out that we are mere mortals and that we need God to save us. Is this a declaration of our joy?

In a little while, we will read from the cynical, fatalistic Book of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes). “Vanity of vanities, all is in vain,” Kohelet teaches us. All of life is hollow, meaningless, amounting to nothing. “There is nothing new under the sun.” Our striving for knowledge and power is futile. We are all mortal. So begins the special Biblical book that we read on Sukkot, the season of our joy.

This coming week, on Shemini Atzeret, we will pray that God will bless us with rain so that we don’t starve. Furthermore, we recite the Yizkor memorial prayers in memory of our loved ones who have passed away. The next day, on Simchat Torah, the day we rejoice over the gift of the Torah, we read about the death of Moses. All of this again on z’man simchateinu, the season of our joy.

The renowned theologian Rabbi Neil Gillman calls this paradox “the emotional ambiguity of Sukkot.” This ambiguity is captured in the book of Kohelet, which is why we read it on this holiday. Kohelet’s conclusion is the opposite of our first impressions. Kohelet’s message in the end is that we should not give up. We must confront and live with the inherent ambiguities of life. “We can find joy,” Rabbi Gillman writes, “in the sheer fact of living, in work, in love, in companionship, in the serenity that comes with understanding and accepting our limitations.”

The statement z’man simchateinu, therefore, is a statement of defiance. Despite all of the pain and suffering in the world, we will go on living. Despite it all, we will express joy. Despite all of the curveballs life throws us, we will not be deterred from celebrating life’s blessings.

For a Chicagoan like me, and I suspect for Clevelanders as well, October baseball is a precarious time. We are joyful over the success that helped us reach this point and hopeful for the future. At the same time, we are humbled by the countless failures in the past and cynical, like Kohelet, that it can ever be any different. Baseball, like Sukkot, is a metaphor for life: joy and frustration playing off each other in a never-ending cycle. For Chicagoans of my generation, never has the cold chill of October felt so good, and yet we acknowledge that it is still cold.

During this season, despite our sense of fragility and uncertainty, let us heed the Psalmist’s teaching, ivdu et Hashem b’simcha, serve God with joy!