Tuesday, September 29, 2015


To be  uncertain is to be uncomfortable, but to be certain is to be ridiculous.

A Sukkot Story and the Buddah’s Hands

     We use the hands for giving and for taking. Our hands are big while giving and small while taking.Giving does not make us poor. Keeping all to ourselves does not make us rich.
    Once in the chaos of a move, we were robbed. The thief pilfered jewelry that were gifts from my grandmothers who were long gone from this world. Of course, the most important ‘things’ in life are not things; they are health, loving family relationships, profound experiences, and meaningful work and are more important than anything I lost that day.
     The day after the robbery I was riding in a taxi and began sobbing. The driver was very concerned and asked me why I was crying. Nothing like a sympathetic stranger to talk to - so I told him. Ah, he said. He understood perfectly. He once lost a watch that had been in his family for generations. But, he continued, it will always be in my heart just as your things will always be in your heart.
     The empathic driver reminded me of some stories.
   One story is about the Buddha’s hands. We cannot tell the front of the Buddha’s hands where the palm is from the back of the hand. Why? Because we need the front of the hand to grasp. This is true: we need our palms to open jars, grab the laundry that needs folding, wrap around the steering wheel of our cars. The Buddha knows better than to try and hold on.
     The second story concerns the religious holiday that we are celebrating this week and is slightly more complex.
    During these autumn days, Jews celebrate a Biblical holiday known as the Festival of Booths or ‘Sukkot’.  It lasts eight days. The ‘Sukkah’ is a “booth” that becomes the primary living area of one’s home. This “booth” or “tabernacle” is a structure open to the heavens and covered with tree branches and gourds and other symbols of autumn and is intended as a fragile dwelling that reminds Jews how their ancestors lived in the desert (and how we must respect life): sheltered yet at the same time open to the universe and to God. All meals are eaten inside the Sukkah and many people sleep there as well.
     During the days of the festival, Jews recite a blessing over the lulav and etrog. The lulav is a slender palm branch that is held together with two willow branches and three myrtle branches. An etrog is a citron that mainly looks like a misshapen lemon but smells like heaven. During the festival the lulav and the etrog are waved in ritualized patterns while the prayers are recited. Except Jews do not carry the lulav and etrog on the Sabbath. (And because the celebration lasts eight days there is always one Sabbath – and sometimes two!)
     Why don’t the Jews carry the lulav and etrog on the Sabbath? There are many explanations but I prefer this: The commandment says that we must give our lulav and etrog to our neighbor or to a stranger if they do not possess one. This implies ownership; that we own this lulav and etrog and can give it away.          Yet, the Sabbath, the day that consecrates time – ‘Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy’ – is to remind us that we don’t own anything.