The Storm of Progress

Oct 12th, 2011 by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg in Holidays, Music of Halacha

Angelus Novus by Paul Klee

My wing is poised to beat

but I would gladly return home

were I to stay to the end of days

I would still be this forlorn

— Gershom Scholem, “Greetings from Angelus” [tr. Richard Sieburth}

A Klee painting named Angelus Novus shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating.

His eyes are staring, his mouth hangs open, his wings are spread.

This is how the angel of history must look.

His face is turned toward the past.

Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one catastrophe, which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage, hurling it before his feet.

The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed.

But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence the angel can no longer close them.

This storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward.

This storm is what we call progress.

(Walter Benjamin, “Theses on the Philosphy of History,” in Illuminations [1940])

“Succot,” as “Yiskah (Genesis 11:29),” means to see the future. I certainly hope we do not use our Succah vision to see the future as does Klee’s angel. We see a wind, not a storm, that blows from Paradise; it is not a wind of destruction but a wind that pushes us forward to accomplish despite the wreckage behind us. Thus, Halachah teaches us that a Succah, a temporary structure, must be sufficiently strong to stand in a normal wind. We consider a storm on Succot, sent by God to prevent us from fulfilling His Mitzvah of living in the Succah, as a sign of God’s displeasure. So, no storms, Mr. Klee; just a gentle wind propelling us forward.

The Succah is named for the S’chach, the symbol of Divine Protection. The gaps are not the wreckage of the past; they are the areas where we have yet to find God in our lives, but, we are told, there are magical ways to fill in the gaps: Lavud, Dofen Akumah, Gud Asik, etc., all laws that allow us to use our imagination to fill in the gaps.

Our angel does not face the past, but the future. He propels us forward into the year with hope.

The Succah is our symbol of the future. It is an expression of hope and expectation that despite our shaky foundation, we can succeed in building a world that flies forward on the winds from Paradise; a world that reflects the beauty of Paradise, a world that expresses our conviction that God is constantly present in our lives.

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