April 16, 2024 /

The Joys of Sukkot – October 2023

There is a plethora of halakaot and mitzvot that pertain to Sukkot. More so than any other Jewish holiday, including Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur combined. Even within those seemingly simple commandments like taking the lulav and etrog and shaking them there are a myriad of ways of understanding and following them and all sorts of halachot on how to complete the mitzvah. When you look at the entire spectrum of halachot and mitzvot that stem for this one seemingly simple holiday, you end up with an uncountable number. In fact, according to Jewish tradition the first thing we should do at the conclusion of Neilah on Yom Kippur is not to eat something but instead go outside and start building our sukkah.

In Vayikra Rabbah, Rabbi Avin poses the question, “Why are there so many mitzvot, right after Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur?” He explains, “to what can the matter be compared? To two people who were called before a judge, and we have no idea who won the case. [How can we determine who has prevailed?] The one who carries the scepter in their hand [when they leave the judge’s chambers] is the one who has prevailed. Similarly, [The Children of] Israel have come to contend before God on Yom Kippur, how do we know [that God has accepted their prayers]? When Israel emerges from God’s presence with lulav and etrog in hand, we know that Israel has been victorious.

You see, Sukkot is the reward for Yom Kippur. If we were to look at the holidays as a three-part play, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur would be acts one and two and Sukkot, combined with Shemini Azteret and Simchat Torah, would be act three. After being spiritually cleansed from the day of fasting we live with joy in our hearts and in our actions. Even out of the plethora of mitzvot there is one that outshines all the others and that is the command to simply rejoice with our holiday. Yes, we are commanded to be festive during Sukkot. We prayed for a world, not as it is, but as we hope it will be and Sukkot is the living embodiment of that world we long for. That is why every facet of the holiday is built around these two themes: joy and impermanency.

If this is the world that we long for, why can’t we have it a little longer? We want more of it so we added on an extra day with Shemini Azeret, and then we tried to push it even further by adding on Simchat Torah. But why not add on three or four more days or even an extra week? It’s because we know that we have not truly made that world a reality yet. If we stay in our sukkahs too long, they will come down around us. That’s why one of the most critical laws surrounding a Sukkah is that we can’t make them permanent, because if we do, we might fool ourselves into thinking that our work is done and the world has been perfected.

I want to invite all of us, not only to our own Sukkah In The Sky here at the Temple, but to build your own Sukkah as well. If you have never built a Sukkah before this is the perfect time to do so and you will be amazed by what it will do for your week.