May 18, 2024
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May 18, 2024
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Rx for Sukkot 5781: Gimme Shelter

The rock and roll culture of the 1960s and 1970s was very much a part of my youth. No, I didn’t attend Woodstock. Nor did I buy into the less-than-desirable behaviors associated with the counterculture. But I could not resist humming along while tapping my feet to the catchy rock and roll tunes played on my AM transistor radio (an anachronism to the younger generation). But, within the many of the ballads and songs of that era, were themes that captured the mood of our country at the time. The country was in a state of confusion and disarray as a result of racial tensions, social unrest, a deeply unpopular war (Vietnam) and political polarization. Our nation’s post-World War II global hegemony was beginning to prove quite hollow. Does this description sound vaguely familiar?

A rock group by the name of the Rolling Stones burst onto the music scene with songs characterized by catchy guitar riffs and performers with brash personas. Like many emerging bands of that era, the Stones’ songs evoked some of the emotions and aspirations of the rebellious younger generation. One of their most popular hits, “Gimme Shelter,” tapped into the anti-war zeitgeist. The opening lyrics are:

“Ooh, a storm is threatening

My very life today

If I don’t get some shelter, ooh yeah, I’m gonna fade away

War, children, it’s just a shot away, it’s just a shot away

War, children, it’s just a shot away, it’s just a shot away”

The song was released in 1969 and immediately became one of the signature hits of the era. It ranks No. 38 on Rolling Stone magazine’s all-time greatest rock and roll hits. While I am not a Rolling Stones fanatic by any means, I believe the title speaks to one of the main themes of Sukkot, a theme that many of us acutely feel today.

Our nation (and the entire world for that matter) is in throes of highly disruptive events that have resulted in unusually high anxiety and, in some cases, outright despair. It goes without saying that the devastation wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic is the most calamitous event this year. But beyond the pandemic, it seems that the social fabric of our country is unraveling. Race relations are tense and growing increasingly contentious.

The race riots of the 1960’s and the devastating collateral damage to many cities across our country left an indelible impression on me. It took years, if not decades, to repair that damage. My birth town of Asbury Park has only recently shown signs of a meaningful recovery.

The depth of the current political divide in this country has no historical analog, in my humble estimation. We are witnessing a schism between our two major political parties that is rendering the effectiveness of our political system feckless, for all intents and purposes. Families and friends are drawing lines in the sand. “You are either one of us (‘the good guys’) or you are one of the miscreants on the other side.” This uber-polarization has had regrettable consequences. An acquaintance recently told me that he hasn’t spoken to his brother in several months over a dispute about which candidate is better suited for the job. I believe this speaks volumes about the disproportionate attention being paid to the upcoming presidential election.

You are probably wondering at this point, “Why is this person trying to put a damper on my Yom Tov festivities?” Sukkot is indeed z’man simchateinu (the time of our rejoicing). So I would like to suggest a silver lining to all the uncertainty that we are currently enduring. I would like to explore the deeper meaning behind the holiday and how the sukkah can provide us with the shelter from the uncertainty and unease in which we are enveloped.

A Novel Way of Sheltering in Place

Last week I wrote about the certainty that we feel in our relationship with Hashem during the month of Elul. We can achieve a higher level of kedusha by focusing on the growth opportunities that Hashem has incorporated into our DNA. The precious vehicle of teshuva enables us to take advantage of many of these growth opportunities. Hopefully, we have already gained from the experience of the Yom Tov season. We are now searching for ways to maintain that elevated status throughout the new year. The next logical step is to understand the meaning behind the sukkah.

As noted earlier, the holiday of Sukkot is described in the Torah as a time of complete joy (“וְהָיִיתָ אַךְ שָׂמֵחַ”). Moreover, the Mishna in Sukkah (51A) describes the festivities in the times of the Temple as a time of unparalleled joy:

מי שלא ראה שמחת בית השואבה לא ראה שמחה מימיו

“He who has not seen the rejoicing at the place of the water-drawing has never seen rejoicing in his life.”

Many wonder why we express our joy by leaving the comfort of our homes during the holiday of Sukkot. Moreover, does the reading of sobering books such as Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) put us in the proper frame of mind for a genuine celebration? What happened to the party hats and liquor?

I believe there are profound reasons for the way we Jews celebrate our times of joy, not only our celebration of the holidays, but our celebration of the joyous milestones in our lives. Simcha in Jewish life is characterized by a sense of gratitude, thoughtfulness and perspective. Our practices at this time of year emphasize our many core values. Dwelling in the sukkah represents our acknowledgment of our utter dependence on and love of Hashem. With regard to our reading of the Book of Kohelet, we are training ourselves to maintain that sense of deep appreciation to Hashem for His beneficence. Retaining a healthy understanding that our days are limited, finding ways to spend our time wisely is an imperative.

A Personal Anecdote

During the holiday season four years ago, my father and teacher, Philip Caplan z”l, was showing multiple signs that his health was failing. My wife, Lori, and I decided to move my dad into our house in order that he may spend his last weeks and days in a loving environment. My extended family rallied around Dad. We did everything in our power to make his waning days comfortable and meaningful.

When the holiday of Sukkot arrived, we felt that having him sit with us in the sukkah one last time would be a cherished opportunity. We struggled to get him up the stairs, out of the house and into our sukkah. The family surrounded Dad and sang some of his favorite Yom Tov songs. Dad sang along and clapped his hands. He peered at the decorations on the walls. Then his eyes drifted upward to the schach. What we saw on his face was his deep appreciation for Hashem, his accomplishments in life and the love of the family he built, but was leaving behind. Sitting in the sukkah was to be one of the final mitzvot he would fulfill.

Dad’s yahrzeit is a few short weeks away. Our celebration of Sukkot should indeed be thoughtful and meaningful, not just a feeding frenzy. Is there a better way to mark Dad’s yahrzeit than to sit in the sukkah and contemplate the privilege of living in Hashem’s wonderful world?

Coming Attractions

In recent weeks I have been expressing thoughts regarding the Jewish holidays. I have been writing articles for this newspaper as a financial professional, hoping to impart some of my professional experience with you, the reader. I hope you found this three-part series on the holidays just as valuable.

All that said, I look forward to taking off for a few weeks, enjoying the bliss of the holidays, and continuing my finance column later this month. My sincerest wishes to you and your families for a meaningful Sukkot and a Chag Sameach!

Jonathan D. Caplan, a former Wall Street executive, is president and founder of wealth management firm Caplan Capital Management, Inc., with offices in Highland Park and Hackensack. He holds a BA from Yeshiva University and an MBA in finance from New York University Stern School of Business. You can find other recent investment articles by Jonathan at

The views presented are those of the authors and should not be construed as personal investment advice or a solicitation to purchase or sell securities referenced in this market commentary. The authors or clients may own stock or sectors discussed.
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