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Chol Hamoed Succot 2014

For everything there is an appointed time, and an appropriate time for every activity on earth: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to uproot what was planted; A time to kill, and a time to heal; a   time to break down, and a time to build up; A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance. A time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; A time to search, and a time to give me thing up as lost; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; A time to rip, and a time to sew; a time to keep silent, and a time to speak. A time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace. Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

King Solomon is talking about processes not outcomes. It seems to me that the Torah is in fact a document about processes and not outcomes. The outcome is a given: -to bring people nearer to Hashem. Perhaps this is the difference between homo religiosus and humanists (using the word in its widest sense). The humanist has to decide what the desirable outcome is and then work out the process. The Torah is less concerned with outcomes than the process.

The reading of Kohelet at Succoth may seem perverse as it is a festival of our rejoicing, not a time necessarily to be reflective. In the physical sense the farmers rejoiced that their crops were plentiful and became a little self-satisfied on those occasions when they had a good harvest. (I feel that self-satisfaction, as after Yom Kippur, I also have a sense of relief when I go into Succoth - it is an easy festival not requiring the physical exertion of fasting nor the concentration on davening that the Yamin Naroim calls for.) It is to counter this self-satisfaction that the rabbis felt that this book of ethics, a contemplative tome, was appropriate for the farmers and consumers to read during Succoth.

Being satiated materially generates self-satisfaction; the outcome is more important than the process.

Life, is work in progress, it is a process. Winnicott developed the theory of attachment, attachment to outcomes. He sought treatments to mitigate loss felt when those attachments were no longer - be they people, or cherished chattels. He developed a process to ameliorate our natural tendency to focus on outcomes.

In the world of education and in the communal arena outcomes, in terms of concrete results, do not necessarily reflect “the real outcome”. The loyalty of Ruth to her mother-in-law, coupled with the generosity of Boaz (processes), were only realised some generations later when their descendant David became king of Israel (outcome).

The processes in hand are those of Menuchat Shabbat and Simchat Yom Tov, and I hope this introspective piece takes nothing away from them.                               

Jeffrey Samuels

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