Sometimes, I feel that Sukkos is supposed to teach us gratitude. This isn’t the mainstream interpretation: many believe that the purpose of living in the sukkah is to focus on G-d and remind ourselves that we are at His mercy, while, of course, commemorating the booths which the Israelites lived in after they left Mitzrayim.
But I am a firm believer of the old adage, “You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone”.
Of course, our warm houses, with radiators and soft furniture and- joy of joys!- proper rooves, aren’t gone. We live without them for a week, and then it’s (kind of) back to the normal routine (but hopefully not totally normal, as that would mean we hadn’t learnt anything from living in a sukkah). But to me, it’s still an exercise in gratitude. Are you grateful for your house? Well, live in a hut for a week and then you really will be!
And now for a confession: I didn’t have a sukkah this year.
Of course I went to the shul sukkah. Of course I built a sukkah. But living where I do, having a sukkah at home just wasn’t possible. And perhaps this is why I failed at The Gratitude Test. I try to be honest, and a part of that means that I need to admit that I failed. I bemoaned my “miserable” Sukkos before we even got to Chol Hamoed. Being single, with few friends living nearby, and a largely non observant family, I complained that Sukkos hadn’t been truly joyous, in fact, it had been lonely.
I forgot to thank G-d for the wonderful people I saw on Sukkos, albeit briefly. I forgot to thank Him for my health, my fortune, my relatively privileged life. Until one night, someone delivered some very bad news to me. One of my best friends was very, very ill. She had been to the hospital with the conviction that something was seriously wrong- and she was proven right.
That night, I davened in the sukkah. I davened with a minyan, too, begging G-d to heal her, but when I stepped out to the sukkah, and glanced up at the stars, inhaled the sweet scent of the fruit, I lost my voice. Tears streamed down my face. Tears of worry. Tears of uncertainty. Tears of stress. Tears of “You know what, G-d, this is really unfair because she’s a great person and deserves much better”.
I sat down and I thought. I thought about how lucky I had been this Sukkos, to see my friend before her illness set in. How lucky I was, to be healthy, and, yes, how lucky I was to be sitting here crying and not in some hospital bed. The next day, I made a promise to G-d. He was going to heal my friend, and I was going to be grateful. “She’s been through enough,” I told Him. “Just heal her, already”.
And as I sit by the telephone, waiting, waiting, I know I am going to hear bsuros tovos. And I know that in the future, I’m going to be a lot more grateful.