Dear Rabbi Fried,
Could you please explain what is accomplished by sitting and eating in a sukkah? We understand it is a mitzvah to do so and the kids love it, but, truth be told, it is sometimes quite a schlep, both building it, taking the food in and out, and sitting in the sometimes not ideal weather.
Could you provide some insight which would perhaps add some meaning?
— Bart & Kimberly W.
Dear Bart and Kimberly,
The holiday of Succos, which begins this Sunday night, is referred to as “our time of joy.” Although there is a mitzvah of joy on every holiday, as the Torah says “vesamachta bechagecha,” be joyous on Succos. Succos has something unique about it as a time of joy which transcends that of any other time in the Jewish year.
Let’s consider for a moment what brings us happiness. Most people would say that they feel happy and comfortable in their homes, where they have their nice furniture, creature comforts and familiar surroundings. If that was truly the source of joy, that joy is quite vulnerable and transient. What if one suddenly lost their home, as happened with so many in the New Orleans flood just a few years ago? What if someone lost their job and had to foreclose on their home? As tragic and unsettling as that would be, from a Jewish perspective one would still need to find a way to be joyous in life. In order to do so, we must find a deeper source of joy than our physical trappings. We have been “wandering Jews” for thousands of years, uprooted from homes and communities with barely the clothes on our backs, but have somehow never lost our joy for life.
The true source of joy is our timeless connection to a higher Essence. Our connection to the Al-mighty has no relationship to time and place. Before being exiled, we had a special connection with the holy Temple, but even when we lost it and were exiled we retained our connection to God through Torah and mitzvos. For millennia we have shown that our joy does not depend upon time, place or physical surroundings, which is a big part of us being an Eternal People.
We bring that relationship alive on Succos. On Rosh Hashanah we “coronated” the King and entered His palace. On Yom Kippur we purify ourselves, transcending food and drink and forge a new, deep connection. This bond is not of a transient nature, rather it becomes part of our very existence. Succos is the time we celebrate that eternal bond. By the very nature of the celebration it’s not sufficient to simply celebrate, rather we need to “live” that bond. Hence the mitzvah of Succos is to build a spiritual place to live, to live our lives outside of our usual physical surroundings. In that way we can focus on our real, grounded existence, our loving connection to God. This brings us to unique joy, as we know that this is the one thing that no foreclosure or flood can ever take away from us.
We are that connection!
After solidifying that relationship with joy for an entire week, we can then transition back to our regular homes where we continue that unique relationship throughout the year. Although we return to our familiar places after Succos, somehow something seems different. What’s changed is that it’s not all about the house anymore — we’ve learned that our joy is linked to something much larger and higher. We can then utilize our homes and everything in them as vehicles to take us even higher. We repeat this every year; this cycle spirals us upward higher and higher every year!
A very joyous Succos holiday to you and all the readers!
Dear Rabbi Fried,