The Freedom to Linger

the eighth day should be a convocation of holiness to you...there is a gathering
— Leviticus 23:26

We are entering the last 3-day block of holidays for the season, and it's not unusual to hear a complaint or two from our people. "More cooking?" "More days out of the office when I can barely say 'Shmini Atzeret' let alone explain it?" It's the Bernstein Bears "Too Much Yom Tov" for many people. 

 And yet in the famous biblical chapter that outlines our holiday calendar year - Leviticus 23 - we find that the last day of this season is added as a bonus day, not a punishment. The pilgrimage time in the ancient word was so joyous and momentous that we needed another day to savor the presence of family and friends in Jerusalem at the Temple: the holiness, the feeling of community, the intimacy with God, the sense of belonging. 

 Atzeret translated above as "sacred gathering" literally means a stoppage. We are unclear what the verse is demanding of us. Rashi's comments on Leviticus 23:36 are among the most well-known explanations of this extra day. "The word is derived from the root A-TZ-R 'to hold back' and suggests 'I keep you back with Me one day more.' It is similar to the case of a king who invited his children to a banquet for a certain number of days. When the time arrived for their departure, he said 'Children, I beg of you to stay one more day with me. It is so hard for me to part with you.'" Rashi derives his reading from the Talmud [BT Sukka 55b].

This is among the earliest Rashi's that I ever learned but only now in my adult years do I fully appreciate its meaning. I've heard parents lament that the wedding they made their children went by too quickly. They just wish everyone could have stayed a bit longer, danced a bit more, prolonged the moment before the happy couple left the ballroom. We've all looked at family photographs of a wonderful vacation and wished we could have stayed a few more days. We look at pictures of children at a particular stage and wonder how they grew up so quickly and wish - once again - we could stop the clocks. There is even, as W.H. Auden captured so well, the desire to stop time at a funeral. There is the awkward leave-taking from the cemetery when we know we have to go yet it feels so final and so hard that we'd like to stay a few more minutes. Those minutes will not change anything but signal to the person we loved and lost that we just don't want to part.

On Sukkot, grown children return for the holidays. Parents visit. There are special meals with friends. Good food. Good conversation. And then there is the slight sting of taking the sukka down, of sending everyone back home, of waving from the driveway at grandchildren who live a few hours away and wondering when we will next read them a story.

And one infinitive remains at the end of the season: to linger. To linger is to stay somewhere just a bit longer than expected, to express a reluctance to go, to know that you have to leave  - and you will - but that it hurts a little to do so. Rashi is pointing to this very sentiment that gets lost as we move from thing to thing with speed and an air of busy-ness. We realize that lingering is a gift, a sign of freedom, a way we luxuriate in time. 

 Let's say a better goodbye to the holiday season than the kvetchy "goodbye and good riddance relief" that we too often hear around now. Let's instead make a commitment not to complain about these last days but to linger consciously. We can give ourselves the present of staying just a littlewhile longer in a tender moment, in a surprise burst of intentional prayer, in a deep conversation with a friend. Linger and enjoy it.

Happy Holidays and Shabbat Shalom