It was the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, British athlete Derek Redmond took his mark as a favourite to medal in the 400 meter sprint. The starter’s gun fires, and they’re off. 150 meters into the race Derek felt a searing pain in his leg. In agony, he fell to the ground, he had torn his hamstring.
His dream of medaling turned into a nightmare. After laying on the ground for a brief moment, Derek, not willing to give up was determined to finish the race. He got himself up and staggered forward. Meter after meter hobbled in unbearable pain.
All of a sudden a man from the stands broke through security and rushed towards Derek, waving off officials as he approached. He put his arm around him helping him keep his balance. After a couple of meters, Derek looks up, it was his father.
“You don’t have to do this,” he told his son.
“Yes, I do,” he replied.
“Well then, we’re going to finish this together!”
Together father and son continued.
Just before Derek arrived at the finish line, his father let him go to complete the race receiving a standing ovation from a crowd of over 65,000.
From Tisha B’Av, through the month of Elul, Rosh Hashana, Aseret Yemei Teshuva and Yom Kippur, we have been immersed in self-reflection and contemplation. Where have I been, where am I, and where do I want to be? How have I acted, how am I acting, and how do I want to act in the future? Who was I, who am I and who do I want to be?
Personal growth is a rewarding, yet painful process at times. We’ve work so hard and may feel, right now, that we’ve falling to the ground with our own torn hamstring.
The race is not over yet. We swiftly get up from pain and exhaustion, we set our sights on the finish line, the culmination of the holiday season, Sukkot.
We may struggle, hammer and nail in hand, limping to get all the Yom Tov preparations in order. But then we sit together, friends and family in a Divine embrace. Hashem telling us: “You’ve worked so hard, you’ve accomplished so much already. I know you are in pain, I know it hurts. Let me help you. I want to give you a hug.”
According to our tradition, to be kosher the sukkah must have at least two walls and a tefach (a handbreadth) and a maximum of 4 walls. Rabbi J. H. Shmidman, zt”l, used to say that a hug is hidden in the very name of our temporary dwellings – ס כ ה. The “two walls” and a “tefach” version, represented by the letter “Heh”, could appear like an arm wrapped over another’s shoulders. The three walled version represented by the letter “Kaf”, could appear like a two armed embrace. And the four walled option, represented by the letter “Samech”, could appear like a great big hug.
After going through the Days of Awe, isn’t that all we need?
As we enter our sukkah, it is traditional to offer the following beautiful tefila:
“…יהי רצון מלפניך ה’ אלקי ואלקי אבותיי שתשרה שכינתך בינינו ותפרוש עלינו סוכת שלומך”
“May it be your will, my God and God of my forefathers, that You cause Your Presence to reside amongst us and that You spread over us the sukkah of Your peace…”
We sit and look around at our beautifully decorated sukkot, we look around at our friends and our families. And we pay attention to the brachot that surround our lives, basking in Divine embrace.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach.