Permanent Temporariness – Sukkot

Huh? Could you say that again? Well, I actually almost called this piece temporary permanence. Or both. Oxymoron city! But this seems to be the most accurate variation to represent the thought. As the late Rabbi Joseph Lookstein once said in a sermon, "the only thing that’s permanent in life is change."1 (Maybe next year we can discuss temporary permanence.)

This theme is alluded to in the mitzvah of Sukka. On Sukkot we are to leave our permanent residence and move to a temporary residence.2 Yet even so, the Gemara teaches us, it may not be a broken down hovel.3 It is to be a nice, pleasant place to spend the week. We are to make it as similar to a permanent dwelling as we can for that 7-day span. We are to behave as if it is a permanent dwelling though we are very conscious of its temporariness.

Temporariness. What do we do about it? How do you deal with your own temporariness? Does mortality empower you, scare you or both? 

In one of his greatest songs, David Bowie sings of his approach beautifully:

                                                                                 Just want to be a better man.4
Having just finished Yom Kippur, and the whole High Holiday season, this should be our aim. We want to be better people and more of who we were meant to be. We look to fulfill our own individual and unique purpose in life, giving our lives meaning though our sojourn here is temporary. We wish to be happy and full of joy. We have a will to joy that we actualize by being ourselves and doing good for others.5

Interestingly, our homes have started to show a normalizing sense of temporariness. According to Professor Allison Clarke, "Ikea also suggests temporariness, which suits what the home interior has become - a place of transience rather than permanence”.6

Our symbol of temporariness is a sukka, which we must "fix up" and make it inhabitable and pleasant. We can make this sense of temporariness into something pleasant. We can find meaning in temporariness. We can accept this challenge. Or we can complain about it. Which would you prefer?

Temporariness exists. It is part of our life. We can use it to our advantage.



  1. I first heard this in a sermon by Rabbi Lookstein, z"l, over 40 years ago concerning the lesson of Sukkot though the concept is much older, appearing clearly in the works of the Greek philosopher Heraclitus amongst others. In Kohellet the theme is alluded to a number of times though not expressed outright.
  2. Vayikra 23:42-3
  3. Masechet Sukka 2a
  4. Here's the link. In printed versions, the lyrics are different.
  5. This theme appears in the works of Dr. Viktor Frankl and specifically in the last chapter of "Meaning in Suffering" by Dr. Elisabeth Lukas
  6. Alison J Clarke, is a professor of design history at University Applied Arts Vienna and a trained social anthropologist. She was quoted in an article in The Guardian at this link:

Have A Great Shabbat!laughing

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