When I set out to write this column, I looked up the origin of Just Desserts and was surprised to learn that it had nothing to do with dessert; rather it is associated with what you deserve and is indeed spelled the same as the word that describes an arid region. It is about what you deserve, be it reward or punishment.
Shabbat and Sukkot however are more about dessert and, ideally, rewards for what you deserve, times to pause and celebrate all the joyous accomplishments in your life, the events of your week and the cycle as you live it through the year.
Frankly, Jewishly, the idiom works both ways: it is dessert when you consider that the week following the hard work of redirecting your focus and priorities to changes you committed to in the Yom Kippur marathon brings you the most joyous holiday of the year, Sukkot. It celebrates the harvest and all the blessings you are now in tune with and grateful for. It is like eating a meal filled with healthy food you would not choose to eat, except that you have to do so to assure good and better health. Dessert is your reward for eating all the proper and nutritional components of the meal. Sukkot is your reward for the hard work accomplished during the Days of Awe.
It is also about what you deserve, just deserts, spelled that way, in that Sukkot is also the outcome, the consequence of the Yom Kippur experience. In fact, if you don’t take Yom Kippur to heart, it is likely that Sukkot will have little meaning or consequence to you. It will be irrelevant. If, on the other hand, you changed your focus and dedicated yourself to God’s trust in you, that you would stop living with selective integrity, your focus will be on functioning with the highest level of integrity all the time. Commitment in that direction opens Sukkot up as a meaningful harvest holiday, highlighting not the material blessings and superficial joys that come and go, but the deeper satisfaction of generating healthier and lasting relationships and discovering what a treasure this moment is in being alive. That is where the close of the holiday, Simchat Torah, rejoicing with the Torah, the Tree of Life restored, brings out the joy of being alive and having people on wave length who value integrity as do you.
Shabbat, along with Sukkot, is just dessert. It is more than TGIF, which implies escape from the pressures of the week. Shabbat, as dessert, is time to kick back, relax, review your accomplishments, celebrate them, and evaluate the points and parts of the week you accomplished most, along with those that fell short. It is a taste of all the enjoyment of life that you may not have had time to partake of, in the rush of the week and the overwhelm of the schedule.
Shabbat is also your deserts, what you deserve, in that, for those who are into living Jewish values of consciousness and integrity, throughout each day of the week, it is given as a ritual time to pause and breathe and deeply appreciate this path in life. It becomes part of the weekly rhythm, in seeking out community through which to share the experience, in services and shared meals. It emerges as an acquired taste. Those not on this path of awareness and connectivity in Jewish context, during the week, are less likely to understand and commit to engaging this day of stopping as an expression of high priority use of time and thereby will be unable to learn and discover what powerful medicine Shabbat can be.
What we deserve, for good or not, ends up being our just deserts. What Judaism offers, in Shabbat and in Sukkot, are days that are served up, for those who eat all their spiritual vegetables and make daily life a healthy diet, as just desserts, deep, wonderful, joyous and tasty morsels of life’s finest blessings, the kinds of dessert that are to live for.