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CyberTorah: The Sukkah as a Gateway to noticing the good.

Criticism of others is hard wired into the human psyche. When something goes poorly, especially
something that matters to us, we react as though the difficulty or failing is a threat. This floods the body
with all kinds of hormones that narrow our cognition and focus us on the threat. While this made sense
your friend has just foolishly thrown away his spear, it limits our response to today’s challenges.


As a result, we rush to criticize. I believe we do this for two reasons. First, we have a belief that telling
someone they did something wrong will help them change, thereby neutralizing the problem or threat
they represent. Second, when we feel threatened, we feel a need to respond immediately in our
narrowed consciousness to give that adrenaline energy an outlet. Yet both reactions are unhelpful.


While there are certain cases where negative reinforcement works, especially in small children, positive
reinforcement is generally more effective. For long term change, most research shows that negative
reinforcement has little to no impact while positive reinforcement may create long term growth. We
need to reprogram ourselves to be as attuned to positives as we naturally are to negatives.


When God creates the world, God notices twice that it is good and once that it is very good. The noticing
of the good is necessary to evoke it. God naming the world “good” helps the world be good. God rushes
to appreciate that which has been fashioned, even amid some of the remaining chaos and
incompleteness that exists at that moment. It is more important to notice the good than to draw
attention to the remaining brokenness.


Yom Kippur has an element of self-work that can border on negative reinforcement. We are noticing our
failings and challenges in the hopes that we can do the work of self-repair. Yet…Yom Kippur is only one
day. We combine it with Sukkot, in which we notice that we are ready to take up the mitzvot (we sit in
the Sukkah, we wave our lulav and etrog) and therefore notice and concentrate on our value as people
created in the Divine Image. Sukkot is the longest Jewish holiday, clocking in at 8 days, 9 in the diaspora.
Meaning: for every 1 negative self critical moment, we ought to have eight positive ones. Sukkot is
about joy, about noticing that we matter to God to restore our spiritual balance after Yom Kippur.


Imagine a world where you got 8 to 9 positive comments for every one negative. We know that this
would make your relationships and work more fulfilling. Happy marriages thrive when the ratio of
positive to negative interactions stays at 5:1 or higher. When they slip below that level, couples start to
run into problems. In other words, a focus on positive interactions encourages feelings of worth, joy,
healthy stable relationships. In such a world, you would be happier and more effective.


In the last year I have been focused on noticing positives. I have put effort into almost exclusively
offering up positive comments to the people with whom I work, and of making the effort to notice and

appreciate something good with the same passion and intensity I used to bring to challenges or
problems. I believe it has engendered some wonderful changes and certainly made me happier and
more fulfilled both at home and at work.
This Sukkot, I invite you to work with God in trying to fashion such a world. Put another way, if we strive
to call out the good in others, if we endeavor to offer at least 8 to 9 positive comments and moments for
every 1 negative, then we are actively becoming a force for healing and wholeness in our families,


workplaces and communities.
Shabbat Shalom and Happy Sukkot-
Rabbi David Booth

Fri, December 9 2022 15 Kislev 5783