Many of us will be sitting in a Sukkah over the next week, eating our meals, enjoying time with family and friends, celebrating a festive time in the Jewish year. There are so many customs associated with the holiday. Some continue to use honey with their challah, while others return to using salt; some will remain in the sukkah through a downpour (not me, usually), and some will stay warm and dry.
There’s one family tradition that I have that has made me think each year about how we differ and how it resonates.
Every year on Shemini Atzeret (the holiday that begins as Sukkot ends) my father would no longer eat in the Sukkah, though many if not most in the community did so. He did make the kiddush blessing over wine in the Sukkah, but only before the midday meal, which we ate inside. As with many of our family customs, it was well grounded in the lineage of our Rabbinic ancestors, but it was also, as often was, a minority opinion that we followed.
This got me thinking about the nature of debate and discourse in our long history. We are, of course, known to be an argumentative people. But the beauty of our argumentative nature lies in the fact that for the most part, debates on matters of law and custom, even politics, were not exercises in hysterics and hyperbole. There was a respect for experience, knowledge and skill, and the will of the majority was most often prevailing. Of course we had our exceptions, from the time of Bar Kochba through late medieval Rabbis who excommunicated each other over legal disagreements; but the very structure of our Oral Law in the Mishnah and Gemara texts reflects genuine, rational, and nuanced debate.
This Sukkot, as we celebrate, let’s remember that not only is it OK to have differing opinions and practice our holiday rituals in diverse ways, but it would serve us all very well if we expected respectful discourse of ourselves in all areas of our lives.
Chag Sameach and Shabbat Shalom!