When you think about what it means to be spiritual, find spirituality, or anything remotely approximating those experiences, what do you think of? Do you find your attention turning to experiences and images of relative solitude? Of solitary walks on the beach or perhaps, lonely mountain peaks? That is certainly one spiritual type. But not the only one.
Perhaps, when you think of being spiritual, you imagine yourself amidst raucous crowds, at home in messy scenes replete with food and wine and loud singing. Do you find that your most spirited moments are more about connecting outward than about connecting inward?
There is no one right way or place to find spirituality, but it pays to know your own path and at least sometimes, to flirt with alternative paths and places. I find myself thinking about that a great deal at this time of year, as my own pursuits include celebrating Sukkot, the biblical festival of Tabernacles, which makes room for both the spirituality of retreat and of reaching out.
The sukkah is a temporary hut built outdoors, and for seven days, people gather there for meals, and some even to sleep. Anyone who has ever built a tree house, or gone backyard camping – whether as a child or with their kids – knows what it’s like.
There is no one right way or place to find spirituality, but it pays to know your own path and at least sometimes, to flirt with alternative paths and places.
You may only be steps from your back door, but you enter that space – be a hut, a tree house or a tent – and you have entered your own wonderful little retreat. Food tastes special, conversations feel more intimate.
The interesting thing about the sukkah is that while it provides all of that, it is a hut defined by the presence of a permeable roof – one which actually allows the rain to seep in when the weather turns bad. What kind of retreat is that?! One which knows that spirit is found both in our retreat from the rain which falls in our lives, and also in the rain itself.
I love the sukkah precisely because it makes room for both the spirituality of retreat and the spirituality of increased connection to the world in which we live. I love that it celebrates the fact that spiritual connection is not fundamentally an either/or kind of thing, but rather both/and.
We may all have a favored path, but the sukkah reminds us that when it comes to sacred paths of spiritual connection, there are many paths that we can take, and probably need to try at least more than one, at least some of the time.
Brad Hirschfield is the co-founder and co-executive editor of The Wisdom Daily. A rabbi, Brad has been featured on ABC’s Nightline UpClose, PBS’s Frontline, Fox News and National Public Radio. He wrote a long-standing column, “For God’s Sake,” for the Washington Post, and has also written for The Huffington Post and Beliefnet.com. He authored the book, You Don?t Have To Be Wrong For Me To Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism. Brad also serves as President of Clal, The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, a leadership training institute, think tank and resource center in New York City.