When I was a teenager, I was very interested in acting. I took classes and performed in plays.

When doing a play, I was usually surrounded by scenery and “props.” They created the environment in which the action of the play took place. Not just the physical environment, but the emotional environment, too.  Even poorly or amateurishly done scenery could still create the desired effect.

I moved around in this scenery as if it were real. The scenery isn’t just for the audience’s sake. It helps an actor to believe that he or she is actually in the setting of the scene or play — an apartment, a forest, a train; whatever, wherever, whenever.

When the play was finished and the audience had departed, the scenery was taken down. The stage was bare.  The feeling was gone. Suddenly, I was reminded that the play was just a play. I wasn’t where I’d “believed” I was while the play was happening.

I had the same feeling last week in a supermarket.

After Hurricane Sandy had caused power to be out, my local supermarket was running on generators. But these provided only emergency power. The store wasn’t fully lit. It wasn’t being cooled. There was no “muzak.” What’s more, all the perishable items — milk, cheese, meat, etc. — had been removed from the shelves. They had been unrefrigerated (or less refrigerated) for only a few hours, but enough to compromise the safety of consuming them.

I found myself in a place that is usually bounteous, colorful and cheerful, but that was now able to provide only non-perishable items in a spartan environment. Of course, this hardly compares with the destruction and losses that many other people experienced, but it helped me empathize with their feelings about what they’d lost, beyond the details of the losses themselves.

I felt concern rising in me: When will it get better? What if it doesn’t get better? What if it gets worse?

I suddenly realized how much “theater” there really is in a supermarket.

So much of our sense of security is tied up with the assumption that things we consider necessary and useful are easily available to us. I’m not even talking about luxuries.

How many times have I told myself that I must “stop at the store” to “pick up” something on my way home from work? Soap pads. Paper towels. Vegetables. Fruit. Toothpaste. We think it “normal.” We need only “go to the store.”

Yet, the moment there’s an interruption in the flow of goods, our discomfort is intense. It’s like watching a play when suddenly, a piece of scenery falls down.

The illusion is broken.

I realized that I walk around as if access to all sorts of foods, the flow of electrical energy, even my actual comfort and safety, are guaranteed; assumed.

The illusion was broken.

In fact, minute to minute, anything can happen.

I realized, too, that perhaps that’s part of G-d’s intention in mandating that we live in a “sukkah” for 8 days each year.

Not that we should eat catered meals in a comfortable setting. Not that we should have “fun” there. Not that we should “camp out” there for a night or two (while going into our home when we need comfort).

G-d wants us to “strike set.” To remove the illusion of security and comfort, to remind ourselves that in fact, anything can happen, moment to moment.

Is this to scare us? To depress us?

Not at all.

Rather, it’s to teach us to face all the events of our lives — even calamaties — with faith, strength, calmness and cheer.

“Affirm repeatedly, ‘I trust in G-d’s help, I know that everything will be for the best.’ Wear a cheerful countenance. In the apparently darkest hours, smile; in the face of apparent calamity, stand at a distance and watch patiently, for calamity never lasts. Even floods must cease, and they leave the soil more fertile for growth. In the face of calamity, do as much as you can with your faculties, with your toil, with your will, but nothing with your mood; for the mood is treacherous, it can obstruct vision, paralyze action, and stifle aspiration. Cultivate a sane, salutary optimism and you will emerge from all calamities unhurt.” [1]


[1] Lichtenstein, Rabbi Morris; How to Live; Jewish Science Publishing Co., NY; © 1925; p. 216