Saturday, October 18, 2008

A thought that occurred to me as I was building the Succah

There is a joke that goes:

Q: Why did God command Sukkot?

A: So that Jewish men would learn to use tools.

There may be something in that - that we should never forget how to build portable dwellings or a tabernacle. We note, after all, that Sukkot is a remembrance of being brought forth from Egypt. The holiday is commanded so that God had us dwell in booths when we left Egypt. Its not a bad skill for a Jew to have - the ability to create a dwelling with ready to hand materials, to make homes for ourselves even as we depart from whatever Egypt we happen to find ourselves in. The Sukkah is an instrument of our deliverance, and I never understood properly God's instructions to Moses concerning the building of the tabernacle until I had built a Sukkah.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

To repair a bit of the world

I've been meaning to post this for months, but have only now found the time.

On Sunday, June 29th, my wife and I traveled with Nechama to Waverly Iowa to do some flood relief work. Deploying with Nechama is something we've been meaning to do for a few years, but scheduling conflicts or fears about our bodies' ability to deal with the allergens or the rigors kept us from it. But earlier this week, fresh from parshat שלח לך, an opportunity that fit our schedule crossed the wife's desk. She asked what I thought, and, not wishing to seem like a grasshopper in my own eyes, I said "let's do it."

We needed to gather shoes, gloves, an sundry other stuff, and we did so. We were nervous about our stamina and allergies, but I decided that dying while trying to make some people's lives a bit better would be better than keeling over at my desk. So we got up at 5:30 on a Sunday morning and rendezvoused at the Sabes JCC with the Neshama van which took us down to Waverly. The van stopped at a Dunn Brothers in Owattana, MN so we could all get coffee and breakfast.

As we continued down we passed through some wind farms. The windmills were tall with beautiful, slender, blades that spun slowly in the breeze. They fascinated us, like some graceful three-armed creature dancing in the the wind. One could imagine meditating whilst staring at them in deep contemplation - as one might meditate with a flame.

The work that awaited was the result of the cedar river flooding its banks. Much of the downtown had been under water, but stores were back in operation when we arrived. Waverly seemed like a creature awakening, life spreading to the various parts of its body. We were to be part of that awakening, removing flood damaged parts of the houses so that the homeowners could restore them. We visited three homes during the course of the day. From one, we removed the kitchen, from another we took up flooring, and in the third, we stripped what had been a finished basement down to the studs.

It was this last house that told the story of what had happened there. As we hung string lights to work by, water came rushing out of the ceiling. As we separated the sheetrock from the studs, we found the water trapped in the insulation. The mud from the river remained in the walls. We then carted the debris to he curb.

It is difficult, when doing flood cleanup work not to think of Noah. God's selection of noah, the building of the ark, the animals-these things always take center stage. Noah planted a vineyard, we read, and we know where that led, but what a monumental task Noah and his family were faced with! Rebuilding their homes, starting over from scratch. How easy to be taken over by despair.

And yet despair is not what we found when we arrived. We found hospitality, homeowners sharing coolers stocked with bottled water. People who wanted to work by our sides to repair their worlds.