Ear­li­er this week, Adam Wil­son wrote about Sein­feld, Moses, and hubris. He will be blog­ging here all week for the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ing.

I’ve thought a lot about Isaac Babel’s love­ly char­ac­ter­i­za­tion of the Jew as a man with “[s]pectacles on his nose and autumn in his heart.” The first part is easy: the man is an intel­lec­tu­al, a schol­ar, a thinker. He is frail, fal­li­ble; his eyes are weak and his touch, per­haps, is tender.

The sec­ond part is sex­i­er, and more open to inter­pre­ta­tion. What does it mean to have autumn in your heart? Is this just an aes­thet­ic flour­ish, a fan­cy way of say­ing that Jews have the souls of poets, that our insides glow amber like sun­lit leaves? Would the effect be dif­fer­ent if Babel had said, instead, that the Jew has spring in his heart?

Per­haps I’m star­ing too close­ly, ignor­ing the for­est for the view of a sin­gle tree. But ours is a cul­ture of close reads and com­men­tary – think of the Tal­mud, think of the over­flow­ing com­ments sec­tion on almost any Jew­ish blog. This is why we wear spec­ta­cles on our noses – we study, we strug­gle to com­pre­hend the incom­pre­hen­si­ble. Think of the sages up all night in Bnei Brak, argu­ing over the hag­gadah. Think of what Hil­lel said — the rest is com­men­tary, now go and study” — who under­stood both the sim­plic­i­ty of moral­i­ty (Do unto oth­ers…) as well as the infi­nite tes­sel­la­tions of its applications.

There is some­thing about autumn. In autumn, we cel­e­brate the new year. In autumn, the book of death is unshelved, left open for a week; the prospect of unwrit­ten death hangs above us. As the leaves fall and the plants die, we face mor­tal­i­ty. We savor the sweet­ness of life and hum­ble our­selves before nature.

My favorite hol­i­day grow­ing up was Sukkot. Begin­ning five days after Yom Kip­pur. The har­vest fes­ti­val, Sukkot, reminds us of our his­to­ry as itin­er­ant agrar­i­ans. Our ances­tors would sleep out in their sukkahs dur­ing the final weeks of the har­vest, before the win­ter frost. They would sleep under the stars and cel­e­brate the boun­ty of the har­vest. We are meant to do the same.

My fam­i­ly wasn’t par­tic­u­lar­ly reli­gious — we occa­sion­al­ly, but rarely, attend­ed a gaudy syn­a­gogue I found spir­i­tu­al­ly void. But we did have a sukkah every year. My moth­er, an artist, built one out of wood and paint­ed it blue with white pol­ka dots, and inscribed it with lines from Amichai poems. We would dec­o­rate the struc­ture in hay, corn, gourds, and flow­ers. Friends and fam­i­ly would come over to feast and drink wine. When the crowd had dis­persed and the sun dis­ap­peared I would make one last trip to the sukkah. I would lie on the grass floor and stare at the stars. I would feel the wind on my face. I’m not sure what I was look­ing for, but I remem­ber feel­ing small, dwarfed by the uni­verse. Per­haps what I felt was autumn in my heart.

Adam Wil­son is the author of the nov­el Flatscreen. He is the edi­tor of the inter­na­tion­al online news­pa­per The Faster Times, and a pro­fes­sor of writ­ing at NYU. His jour­nal­ism, crit­i­cism, and fic­tion have appeared in many pub­li­ca­tions includ­ing Book­fo­rum, The New York Times, The Paris Review Dai­ly, The New York Observ­er, Merid­i­an, Wash­ing­ton Square Review, The New York Tyrant, Gigan­tic, Time Out New York, The For­ward, andPaste.

Adam Wil­son is the author of the nov­el Flatscreen, a Nation­al Jew­ish Book Award Final­ist. His sto­ries have appeared in The Paris Review, Tin House, and The Best Amer­i­can Short Sto­ries, among many oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. In 2012 he received the Ter­ry South­ern Prize from the The Paris Review. He teach­es cre­ative writ­ing at New York Uni­ver­si­ty and lives in Brooklyn.