Rabbi Sandra Kviat, 21 October 2016
A hyggelig Sukkot?
“Hygge” – the Danish word for cosiness, warm conviviality, intimacy or what the French would call joie de vivre is everywhere. Newspaper articles, magazines and books (there are now at least four different books on the topic) all laud the concept of hygge. As a Dane, born and bred, I feel I have a certain amount of expertise on the subject, having grown up with the idea of making time and spaces hyggelige though perhaps not as consciously aware of it as a phenomenon as it has become today. I love hygge, to me it means turning an occasion or a space into something special, whether you are with others or by yourself. It does not only mean woolly jumpers or lit candles, or home baked buns (the cinnamon roll that so many articles mention are actually a Swedish dish, not Danish, in case you were wondering). It can also be hyggeligt to go for a walk in the woods, to hang out in a cafe in town, to spend the day on the beach with friends, or a shabbat dinner with the family. “Hygge” means togetherness and comfort.
And it strikes me that it is something we all desperately long for after the serious self-reflection of the High Holy Days. But is Sukkot hyggelig? Is sitting in the Sukkah a symbol of hygge, of nourishment? On the one hand having afternoon tea in our Sukkah with the family, wearing multiple layers of clothing and blankets, is hyggeligt. Being outside, even if it is only for a short period of time, listening to the birds, watching the many coloured leaves fluttering, smelling the sharp freshness of autumn, are definitely hyggeligt. But the concept of the Sukkah, the impermanent shelter, ill suited for our climate this time of the year, does have a different and much less hyggelig side to it. For hygge also means being safe, and though we talk about a sukkat shalom – a sanctuary of peace – the sukkah is a place that can succumb to the elements at any point in time, and what’s more – it does not have a lock on it.
And then consider the three parashiot for this coming Shabbat – they are not exactly dealing with subjects we would consider hyggelige; the first deals with not oppressing strangers, not gossiping, or lying in court, and not stealing. The second parasha provides us with the description of the carving of the second set of tablets – all responding to the earlier themes of what principles we need to live by in order to function peacefully as a group is also not a hyggelig and comforting description when we remember the golden calf episode that has just happened. And the third describes Moses’ full encounter with God, even if it is only to see God’s back, as to see God’s face would be a death sentence. I don’t think Moses would have considered it hyggeligt to be crouching in the cleft of the rock, desperate to feel God’s nearness, yet fearful for the consequences of this nearness.
But there is another side to hygge that does, surprisingly, fit with our parashiot. For hygge is not only cosy background music, underplayed but stylish interior design, or knitted slippers. ‘Intrinsic to hygge is the concept of lavishing your full attention on ordinary moments’ as Jess Cartner-Morley explains it. Hygge is also to be mindful, to use another buzzword, to be fully present, to be aware. And is that not exactly what all the admonitions are about? To be aware of what you are doing, in that exact moment? Is that not exactly what we are trying to do in the Sukkah – not just to rush into it while you grab a bit to eat, but to be aware, present, and mindful as we look to begin a new year?
And so I wish us all a hyggelig Sukkot and nyt år (new year).
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