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A New Perspective

A New Perspective

Lessons From the Sukkah

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The crisp, dark air has cooled off from the end-of-summer heat that gets trapped in our roof-top Sukkah. On some days, after dusk is the only pleasant time to sit up here. I peer through the palm branches and sticks of bamboo to find a few lone shimmering stars. They are so far away, and they wink at me. They seem like tiny diamonds, though I know that they are mammoth balls of fire, probably bigger than our sun. I wonder what they see, from their celestial vantage point, peering through the cracks of my Sukkah.

I recall a photograph of my friend, taken by her little daughter. The three-year-old stood in her living room and carefully held the camera in her small hands. "Smile, Mommy!" Snap. We gathered around to see the digital image on the small screen. My friend was a giant, her head framed by the ceiling light fixture. "Wow," she said, startled. "This is how she sees me. I tower over her!"

Since that encounter, I try to kneel down beside my kids so they can see me from a different view, and so I can see them eye to eye instead of looking down at the tops of their little heads. The first time I did that, my two year old son touched his nose to mine and said, "Hello, Ima!" It amazes me how different my responses are – to their behavior, comments, or requests – when we're level, eye to eye.

As a child, I sometimes liked to stand on my head. The room would be upside down, the floor perched atop the bookcases. Sometimes, I was too aware that it was just me who was upside down, and the furniture remained grounded. I liked watching things shift out of place; the skewed experience often allowed me to see the true relationship between things.

Perhaps that is why we go out and eat in the Sukkah for a week. To see mundane life from a new angle. To view our homes, our comforts, our routine, our habits - from the outside. A new perspective can help clarify our priorities, solidify or shatter our beliefs, question the things we take for granted.

One particular night at an evening learning group, I remember studying with a girl I had known in high school. We were making our way through a difficult explanation of the text, and we began to argue. She tried to convince me of her approach, and I argued that my way was the correct way to read it. I attempted to show her the fault in her translation – she was grouping the words wrong, and missing the subtlety of the idea - and she tried to prove that she was right, and didn't even know where I got my idea from. We were both reading our favorite explanation into the commentator's words, convinced we each understood what he was really saying.

I remember my frustration as I listened to her, thinking, "She understands it differently because she assumes the commentator is explaining it the way she is already familiar with. She won't see that that's not what it says." And then I suddenly realized that I was doing the exact same thing. My mind cleared, as though a haze had been lifted from the black print, and I saw the obviousness of what she had been trying to explain the whole time. I nearly jumped up. "Oh! You're right – you're right!"

In the enthusiasm of our learning, I didn't have to be embarrassed for my faulty conviction. I was just overjoyed to finally see the clarity of truth.

Some years later, I found myself in a difficult situation. A particular challenge that I grimly wondered if I was failing. I complained to a friend on the phone, and she sighed. "I've been hearing about so many terrible things lately. I shouldn't be the one to spread bad news, but sometimes, it helps to hear about other people who have it harder than you."

I didn't want her to continue. The approach irritated me, as though hearing about someone else's drama would illegitimize my pain. But she did continue. She told me about her neighbor whose young granddaughter tried to commit suicide. Her friend who found the gumption to leave her abusive husband. The lady in her community who waited long years to have a baby, and then suffered a still-birth. Now, on top of being irritated, I was saddened by all the horrible stories, and, as I had expected, guilt-ridden that I could still care about my own trivial worries. But, although simple, her next words managed to wrench me out of my miserable perspective.

"Just as you hope those people know that G‑d's love is hidden, and pain has the power to polish and strengthen, tell that to yourself. It's not that what you are going through doesn't matter because someone else has it worse, but that there's a reason for your suffering. Maybe it's partially in order to give you the tools to be able to empathize with other people's pain."

And, albeit momentarily, I saw it as she portrayed it, as though I stood on a nearby mountain and looked, not down, but through.

From the change of p(l)ace that the Sukkah provides, let us glean new insight – and outsight – that will be helpful all year long. May we merit to see the details of our lives, from the perspective of being surrounded by the clouds of glory!

Rafaella Levine is a translator, writer, and teacher living in Jerusalem with her family.
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Nathan Denver, USA November 16, 2008

hello Rafaella I enjoyed your article. You are an excellent writer. In the classroom I also find that getting down to the students' level is always important. Hope all is well... Reply

Betsy Vermont USA November 3, 2008

new perspective I love hearing/reading about your insights and new perspectives! Sometimes it's hard to see new perspective but it seems like it's always worth it. THANK YOU! Reply

Shani USA October 16, 2008

Rafaella, your words are inspiring as always. Thank you for...a different point of view! Reply

Anonymous October 13, 2008

wonderfully written I really needed to read this. with everyone including me the mommy sick before yom tov and a ton of guests...thanks for changing my perspective!

Chag Sameach!
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Anonymous October 13, 2008

Wow! amazing article! just what I needed to hear. Shana tova and hag samech! Reply

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