Almost exactly five years ago to the day, my parents got a call that all people dread: their home (the one of my childhood) was up in flames. Fortunately, no one was in it at the time of the fire, and the major damage was confined to the back of the house. But still, it came out of nowhere, while my parents were out of town, and the aftermath of the conflagration displaced them for many, many months.
In the fifteen plus years that I’ve been involved in Jewish outreach and education, I’ve had people tell me again and again that the problem with spiritual concepts like God, souls, and the afterlife is that we can’t be sure that they actually exist as they are intangible and unprovable. Things in the physical realm, these people argue, are here and now – touchable and knowable.
But how real is the material world anyway? All of our possessions, from the moment we acquire them, immediately start to wither away until they need to be repaired or replaced. And most of the wealth that people have, that to a large extent dictates how secure they feel in life, is nothing more than numbers on a piece of paper. And as we’ve seen with the stock market’s volatility over the last several years – numbers on paper don’t mean very much as people’s investments and financial futures have gone from decimated to recovered only to be decimated again. Even the richest, haughtiest person out there has been shown in recent times that there is no safe place for his money – no place that he can guarantee its security.
Ironically, my parents’ house caught on fire the day after Sukkot ended – a holiday in which we spend a week living in a hut called a Sukkah, in order to remind us that our big, strong, stable homes are quite not as permanent and impregnable as we like to believe they are. Sukkot teaches us that ultimately our lives are no more secure than a shaky hut, blowing in the wind, because the only true stability out there is that which is provided by the Almighty. Whatever security we might perceive there to be in the physical world is, itself, the illusion.