I am body surfing in Hawaii. I swim out a few hundred yards from shore, no mean feat for me. I wait for the right moment. I am in a trough between breakers. I start swimming for shore with all I have left. The next thing I know I am atop a wave speeding shoreward. Looking down I see the beach about twelve feet below me and realize that if I donít put my feet down and start running at just the right moment I am about to be slammed into the packed sand of Sunset Beach. After a morning of that, I need a chiropractor to fix the neck I nearly broke a couple of times because I didnít get my feet down.
Life moves in such cycles: the valley, the peak, and repeat. We rely on that cycle when it comes to radio signals or light. Our bodies even need the cycle of dark and light; ask anybody who has been on a transoceanic flight. Efficiency experts talk of matching our circadian rhythms to our work schedules. Every diabetic knows the cycle of low and high glucose counts. It seems that God also understands that for every low we need a corresponding high. He built it into the calendar of festivals for the Jewish people.
Ten days into a month you hear a trumpet sound. The songs in synagogue are mournful. The emphasis of the day is on sin. It is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Today God makes his decisions about what will come to you in the next year. You have spent ten days thinking about your sins in the previous year, and spent those days going to those you have wronged to ask for their forgiveness. On top of all that, you are not allowed to eat. The pleasures of life are denied to you for twenty-five hours. This is your annual trip into the valley. The command for the day even sounds low. ďIt shall be an holy convocation unto you; and ye shall afflict your souls.Ē (Lev 23:27) Affliction, sin, atonement; how low can it get?
The day after, you begin a climb. You start upward by beginning to build an imperfect building. Five days after Yom Kippur the command is to feast for seven days. Itís time to party! And such a party. The Feast of Booths (or Tabernacles) is sometimes merely called ďThe Feast,Ē it is such a party. Sins have been forgiven. A new year has begun. The command to abstain from food has been rescinded and replaced by a command to feast. Not just eat; feast! And to do so for seven days. If you are like me, it doesnít take a command to get food into your belly. How much higher can you get than to be told you have to eat?
Yes, God understand his creation. He knows that when we are at our low point we need a following high. Maybe not always such extremes as these two holidays, but we need the contrast. Without the following high point, our lows become depression. The peaks, however, cannot last. Perhaps that is why Succos is a seven day feast. Not only does God know we need to recover from a low point, but he puts a limit on the high. The command to feast is constrained to a seven-day period. Feast now, because the rest of the year is coming at you quickly. Just like that twelve-foot wave slams into the beach, the peaks God gives us are followed by lower points. Our bodies are made for cycles. On this earth there is no perpetual low, or perpetual high. And maybe that is another lesson of the fall festivals. Although the feast is followed by the mundane, God promises us that even that will not last. There will be another peak to climb. Itís just on the other side of this valley.
(Yom Kippur is October 9 and Succos begins October 14, 2008.)