Weekly MMM – Sukkot
Following along in our holiday series, let’s talk about Sukkot now. It’s basically the second half of the High Holiday period.
The first half of the High Holiday period was sort of a self-discovery process called teshuva, a reawakening of who we are and want we want to do with our lives. We see G-d as our partner in this personal process.
After Yom Kippur, in the second half of the holidays we are ready to bond our newly-discovered selves with G-d in a loving, bonding way. It’s like a courtship or a marriage, and that sets the tone for the holiday of Sukkot. It’s not the same as the strict, fear-filled, first 10 days of the High Holidays. These are the love-filled days of the High Holidays.
The love-filled days culminate as we sit under sukkah, or a temporary booth for 7 – 8 days of use each year. We sit or stand inside it with the understanding that we don’t need the comforts of this world to be sheltered and protected and warm. We can enjoy protection in the flimsiest of abodes when we are trusting in G-d to care for us.
This is an analogy that applies not only to the sukkah, our temporary home during Sukkot, but also to our lives throughout the year. It is sort of an inoculation for trusting in G-d, and believing that even though it may not seem that the odds are with us, our trust in G-d is greater than out natural surroundings. You might say we’re loading up on our trust for the year ahead; we’re building our trust factor.
So, first we have the bonding factor, and then we also have the factor of holy space. Like Shabbat is holiness in time, Sukkot is holiness in a specific, small space. Just as we completely immerse ourselves into a mikvah, we immerse ourselves into a sukkah, and just by being in there we’re immersed in a holy space.
In that holy, G-dly space, we have access to higher beings. We have access to the seven ushpizim, the seven shepherds of Israel: Abraham, Issac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph and David. We invite all seven shepherds into our sukkah every night, but the main attraction is the one associated with that night. Abraham is the first night, Issac is the second night, Jacob is the third night, Moses is the fourth night, Joseph is the fifth night and David is the seventh night.
We welcome them and literally try to feel their presence with us. We try to discuss their Torah, and their influence on us. It’s a paradigm we connect-up with on that night of Sukkot and for the rest of the year. It’s very timely as well, because right after Sukkot we go into the new cycle of Torah, which is all about the Patriarchs. We are introducing our new connection to the Patriarchs in the upcoming Torah cycle during the holiday of Sukkot.
We “shake off” the worldly aspect of our lives and enter another-worldly, higher-worldly place inside the sukkah. We thereby gain love of G-d, trust in G-d, and also happiness. We go out every night of Sukkot, just as they did back in the days of the Holy Temple, and we participate in a ceremony that emulates or approximates the ceremony of The Drawing of The Waters which took place just outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. They brought in the water as an offering, and they danced and sang all night long. We, too, dance and sing all night long.
Sleep is over-rated during Sukkot. If you’re really keeping the holiday the way it should be kept, you don’t sleep at all outside of the sukkah, and of course there’s a party going on every night, so you really can’t sleep anyway because you can hear all the other parties in sukkahs in the neighborhood all night long. Sukkot is not conducive to sleep, which is a form of rectification of the whole sleep thing, too.
We go out into a sukkah, not only to party and to be happy with G-d, but also to gain, as it was said in the old days, a semi-prophetic state of Ruach HaKodesh. The happiness allows us to get to higher levels.
We also take the choice species of nature, the four species – the lulav (the palm vine,) the Etrog, the myrtle and the aravah. We take them and wave them, as though we’re waving the evil spirits out of our lives. That’s one way to look at it.
We are also attaching ourselves to the best of the supernatural by waving in all directions, which represents all the Sephirotic directions. We do that on Sukkot. And we do a lot of circle dancing, around and around the altar in the synagogue, and on Simchat Torah we dance around with the Torah. Circle dancing in Judaism is a type of dance which brings down that which is beyond to that which is within us. Circle dancing brings down the surrounding light by going around and around, bringing that which is beyond to that which is within.
It’s another expression of how we grow spiritually, bringing the part of the soul which is beyond us into the part of the soul within us. So, spiritual growth is happening in our circle dancing.
Happiness may be one of the hardest of the mitzvot of Sukkot because there are so many things that can aggravate us and cause us to get crazy, sad or mad. But we do have a mitzvah to be happy during the entire holiday, more so than any other holiday, even though it may be a challenge. Usually the amount, depth and quality of our happiness depends on the first half of the High Holy Days, the amount, depth and quality of our teshuva, of going within and purging whatever keeps us from connecting with our essential self and our connection with G-d.
The deeper we dive into the first half of the holiday, the deeper will be the happiness in the second part of the holiday of Sukkot.
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