We are in the middle of the festival of Sukkot, when we get to camp out in our makeshift huts and recall the kinds of booths our ancestors lived in during the Jewish people’s travels in the Wilderness.
It’s interesting how Sukkot is just a few days after Yom Kippur, and how they are counterpoints to one another.
• On Yom Kippur, we eat nothing and spend an evening and the next day in a well-constructed synagogue or temple. On Sukkot, we eat nice meals, but spend our time in the makeshift sukkah.
• On Yom Kippur, we think about big issues that have long-term effects, such as what we may have done that hurt other people or how we broke God’s commandments, and how we can go about fixing those mistakes. On Sukkot, we think about immediate issues, such as whether it will be pleasant while we eat dinner in the sukkah, or whether it will rain or be hot, making it difficult to live in the sukkah for a few hours or the coming day.
• On Yom Kippur, though we may be in a large sanctuary, we turn our thoughts inward and think about them privately. On Sukkot, we invite guests to enjoy our meals in our small sukkah. In fact, many people have the custom of Ushpizin, in which we invite famous guests into our sukkah for our evening meal (just like we invite Elijah the Prophet into our homes on Pesach). These guests are the seven “faithful shepherds” of the Jewish people – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron and King David.
• On Yom Kippur, we downplay our possessions and our attention to ourselves – we do not wear leather shoes, do not “anoint” (like wearing cologne or perfume), and many people wear white clothes, which are rather plain, as a sign of purity. On Sukkot we decorate the sukkah with fruit, flowers and flags, and have the nicest Arbah Minim (four species) we can buy – a beautiful etrog (a large lemon-like fruit) and a long date palm branch around which are bundled myrtle and willow branches.
• Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement. Sukkot is called Ziman Simchasenu, the Time of Our Gladness.
So, first we went through Yom Kippur, where we fasted, gave up certain comforts and prayed for forgiveness for the mistakes we made. These are spiritual things. Now, on Sukkot, we are more involved in our physical world.
Both are important and need attention. And they are connected. You gave up physical things – food, nice clothes, comfortable shoes – to get in touch with your spirit. Now, as you get in touch with good food, the companionship of friends and the outdoorsy surroundings of your sukkah, do you also feel spiritually uplifted? Maybe we need to have things – and to get away from things – in order to be well-rounded spiritually.
Chag sameach (happy holiday) and Shabbat shalom,