The transience of existence is superficially paradoxical. Humanity is no more than a passing shadow, yet the snapshot of life is impactful enough to alter the very fabric of creation.

The celebration of Sukkot, and the harvest season that defines it, alludes to the profundity of this transience. Autumn erases the green of summer, as leaves blanch into rich shades of red and gold, only to return to the color that originally defined them as the weather warms. A planted seed emerges from the earth as an entirely new entity, yet in its distinct physical form it bears the same seed that initially conceived it. Existence is in a constant state of motion marked by growth and change, but for all the evolution, nature consistently returns to its origins.

The The purpose of life is to end up where we began purpose of life is to end up where we began. The final destination of the soul is firmly rooted in its inception—the spark of G‑d preceding the cosmic descent into the physical world, the essential self achieved when the potential meets the actual. Meditation on this cyclic nature of existence endows the process with a spirit of calming familiarity. The daunting progression is, in actuality, a regression, as one moves back to that proverbial place where the soul is in harmony with its true purpose. This ascension back to the unencumbered self requires an undoing of the initial descent, a path already traveled. Thus, the road is one that is intrinsically native to us, the Torah serving as the map that guides us to stay true to it, back to the union with our Creator.

In anticipation of the harvest season, the farmer sends a seed on a long descent into the darkness of the soil. In this foreign abyss, it begins a lengthy process of growth and change. In order to meet its potential as viable produce, the seed must abandon its initial form. Throughout the process of physical transformation, it ascends through the soil along the same path that defined its planting. As it breaks through the earth, emerging as its fully formed self, it would appear that the result is entirely distinct from the seed that was planted. But fascinatingly, the plant bears seeds identical to the seed that began the journey. In essence, the process of the seed’s growth was a passage back to its origin, a regeneration of sorts. Again, a superficial paradox arises. If life is a pursuit of something already achieved, what is the incentive to grow? Does not this notion of striving to finish at our beginnings promote complacency and contentment with the self? The rediscovery of the soul’s divine origin through the pursuit of our potentials is only possible with a stepping outside of the self. Just as there was a necessary forsaking of the seed’s original form in order for it to eventually bear identical seeds, temporary abandonment of self is necessary for a return to one’s true potential.

Sukkot provides a unique opportunity to explore this abandonment. The exile of the Jewish people reflects something profound: the scattering diaspora has drawn us away from our essential center, our spiritual homeland. Metaphorically, the land of Israel is a manifestation of the Jewish spirit, the collective soul, the essence and the divine origin. In our individual pursuits as Jews across the globe, there are boundless opportunities to explore, to struggle and fight for our beliefs in the face of inconvenience, isolation, even intolerance. On Sukkot, we erect the sukkah as a temporary dwelling, reminding us of the transience of the forty years of exile in the desert. In the process, we step outside of our homes, the routine of daily existence, and metaphorically, ourselves, as a reminder that we are still on this journey, entrenched in the physical and spiritual exile our Creator has in store for us. In the process of eating, drinking, spending time with family and friends, some even sleeping in this transient structure, may we be reminded of the fleeting nature of life, overwhelmed by a desire to continue the pursuit of our essential selves, and comforted by the knowledge that the journey is simply a return back to a very familiar place. Hashivenu Hashem eilecha venashuvah, chadeish yameinu kekedem. Bring us back to You, G‑d, and we shall return; renew our days as of old.

With The rediscovery of the soul’s divine origin through the pursuit of our potentials is only possible with a stepping outside of the self little more than the patient hand of the gardener, tepid water and tended soil, the insignificant seed struggles with great tenacity on the darkened journey back to its origin. On Sukkot, we enjoy the fruits of its labor and learn from its resolve. As the loving hands of our Creator gently guide us along the path that is life, quenching us with the waters of Torah and commandments, may we fight through these foreign soils with the tenacity of the little seed, never forsaking our journey until our emergence from the darkness of exile. When we inevitably surface, we will have finally brought our omnipotent gardener the bountiful harvest He envisioned.