The reader of this column will please forgive me if this week’s installment seems a bit out-of- sorts; the powers that be have decreed that I must write this as a post-Yom Kippur, post-Yomim Nora’im column, preparing as it were for zeman simchaseinu. Yet in the real world, in real time, it is right now, as I write this, very much before Yom Kippur, right smack in the very thick of y’mei hadin. Teshuvah, tefillah, tzedakah? — or v’samachta b’chagecha? What is the writer to do? To just bat out a superficial article about simchas Yom Tov, or about the Sukkah, superficial because he still faces selichos, kapparos, tevilah, Kol Nidrei — do you see the point? So, do I just skip the week?
Well, I obviously didn’t skip the week, or you wouldn’t be reading these words, right? Was the problem resolved, or, as often happens, ignored? Read on, and decide…
The pasuk says (Vayikra 23:41), “And you shall celebrate it [Sukkos] for HaShem, seven days in the year… in the seventh month [Tishrei] you shall celebrate it.” Now, the word used for “celebrate” here is “tochogu,” whose root can also mean “a circle” and “to go around and around.” Ramban there, in the middle of a somewhat kabbalistic explanation of the pasuk in which he explains seven days, eight days, lulav, and esrog, says “And the pasuk means to tell you that you should go around and around the year with these seven days.” This would apparently mean that in some sense we circle the year around what is our central focus — the hub of the year: Sukkos. That is to say, the days of the year “circle it.” How do we understand that?
Yalkut Shimoni, on a pasuk in Yeshayahu describing how in the future the Sukkah will be a place of refuge, says that the reference is to the “end of days,” when the wicked will be punished by HaShem, and HaShem said to the tzaddikim, “I will protect you from the devastating punishment being meted out to the resha’im if you but take refuge in the Sukkah.” What is the deeper, inner meaning of this idea, that the Sukkah saves the tzaddikim from the catastrophes awaiting the resha’im?
We see that the Torah constantly refers to the simchah of Sukkos as a result of it being the harvest season (see, for example, Devarim 15:13). The pasuk speaks of gathering in the bounty found in the field from the past agricultural season. But there could very well a deeper, hidden meaning, as the Yom Tov certainly is so much more than an agricultural holiday. Klal Yisrael, all of us, have just undergone days and weeks of great spiritual ferment. Starting from Elul, we have resolved to better ourselves, and with that undertaking have gone through the days of Elul, Rosh Hashana, the Ten Days of Repentance, and Yom Kippur. We have, to whatever degree, implemented some of those new commitments, and are ready to move forward, having presumably internalized at least some of our new hanhagos.
But we face a very real problem. We have thus far been in a sort of a cocoon of spirituality, within which it is “easy” to change, to live a life more attuned to ratzon HaShem. But what will happen to our resolve as we travel through the year? When we, so to speak, “step outside” the house built up over these last few weeks, and re-enter the “real” world? When the calendar calms down, and life resumes at a mundane, “boring” pace, will our undertakings persevere?
HaShem thus gave us… Sukkos! Coming on the heels of those exalted days, we are told that we must leave our home, our place of stability, and step outside. And it is outside, where we are buffeted by the winds, the elements, where we are exposed, that we are told to build ourselves a Sukkah, a place which is also outside, but with our own mechitzos to ensure that we maintain who we are and what we are while at the same time we are essentially unsheltered and unprotected. Sukkos is when we must leave our perch and be part of the outside world, and yet protect ourselves from it, maintaining a separateness from it.
Sukkos is when we are to put into practice what has until now been theory. Sukkos is the litmus test of our resolve. Sukkos is when we are charged with continuing our spiritual high while being pummeled and pounded by factors that we may not be in control of. Thus, Sukkos has a certain pride of place amongst the Yomim Tovim. Its function is to take all our spiritual gains out of their “protected” place to see how we fare “outside,” i.e. if we can be outside, yet build a Sukkah there, and survive.
Chag Ha’Asif — Festival of harvesting. How apt. In the physical world we are busy harvesting the produce we have labored for; and, it seems, in the spiritual world as well, we are happy, exultant, thrilled — for we are also harvesting! Yes, we are harvesting the spiritual gains of these last few weeks and “gathering them in,” seeing if we really, truly “own” them! Seeing if we are ready to brave the outside world, build our own protective devices, and venture forth! Will we “gather in” our spiritual gains or find ourselves unable to do so?
Why will HaShem protect us in the future davka through utilizing Sukkos? It is simply the time-honored method called midah k’neged midah — measure for measure. HaShem is, so to speak, saying: You tzaddikim have constructed your sukkos to protect yourselves from those outside, foreign, elements; let Me pay you back in turn, make for you sukkos to protect you from any ill effects resulting from the final punishment of the nations of the world.
Indeed, Ramban says that we circle the year with Sukkos as the hub. We circle life, this world, our travels through the vicissitudes of our temporal existence, keeping that conceptual Sukkah — which have hopefully constructed firmly in mind and in sight — in our hearts and in our souls.
Gut Yom Tov!