Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Horns, Angel Suits and Ancestors in the Back Yard


It’s a funny time of year in the Jewish calendar. The festivals of Rosh Hashanah (New Year) has just passed in which the ‘big events’ are decided by the Almighty. This festival is followed by 10 days of repentance in which we continue to do an audit of our lives and work to return to the Source of All.

That to my understanding is the purpose of atonement – not to flagellate ourselves about past sins – but to look back and see what we can do better to strive to be close to G-d. To reach that stage of being one with the purpose of creation – in other words at-one-ment.

The ten days culminate in the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, which is a 25 hour fast (no food or drink) and almost the whole day in prayer. During Rosh Hashanah a ram’s horn is blown, as a reminder of the ultimate sacrifice the Abraham almost made and to counter the cries of Sissera’s mother (amongst a whole list of other reasons).

During Yom Kippur people try to be like the angels, dressing in angel costumes, standing with their feet together (as described in Ezekiel) and pouring out our hearts to be sealed in the book of life.

Then as soon as the fast is over and everyone’s had a bite to eat and something to drink, people start going outside to build temporary structures. And when I say temporary, I really mean that as mine has almost blown away twice now.

Here is an article by Rabbi Geoffrey Dennis about how this temporary structure (sukkah – to commemorate the 40 years in the desert after the Exodus from Egypt) enables certain ancestors to visit. It blew me away the first time that I read it.

A Sukkah

This year is the first time in ages that I’ve built a sukkah. On the first night I hope to be entertaining the spirit of Abraham the Patriarch. When my wife asked what we should have for dinner, rather than choose something that we normally have on Friday night like chicken soup, meat and vegetables – I asked for pizza.

“Pizza?” she asked. “Any particular reason why?”

I decided it was best not to go in to a lengthy explanation about how I link pizza and spirits from having read the fictional novels by Jim Butcher about the Chicago based wizard Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden.

“So that we can have pizza in the hut”, I replied. Again I declined to explain further how this was inspired by a character from the film Space Balls.

The other things that struck me about the sukkah is that it’s one of the few commandments that surrounds a person from all sides and for some reason here in the UK, putting up a temporary structure is one of THE best ways to summon rain. Lots and lots of rain.

Perhaps if the sukkah acts as a luminal zone, as a threshold between the physical world and spiritual worlds, the rain is needed to act as a universal lubricant to ease the passage of spirits. On the other hand, perhaps the sylphs, sprites and other things that call these isles home take delight in playing with the booths that pop up for one week every year since the time of Cromwell and for a century or two before 1290.