Just four daysseparate Yom Kippur from Sukkot, and yet these festivals occupy completely different emotional and spiritual zones. The former is somber, ascetic and still. Many of us spend hours in the sanctuary, reading, singing, and periodically falling down in submission. We don’t “do” anything on Yom Kippur—the day is one when we abstain from “doing,” the better to examine our deeds. On Sukkot, we are a blur of action—out shopping for a beautiful lulav and etrog. We schlep, we hoist, we hammer and we tie. And when the holiday finally begins, we keep active—waiving our funny fruits, dancing in circles and sitting anywhere but in the house. Yom Kippur is a day for hunger and tears. Sukkot is a time for fruit, wine and joy. Could you ask for two holidays which have more contrast?
And yet, the holidays are linked. On Sukkot we act like prisoners freshly released by the parole board—eager to prove our virtue, to be on our best behavior after standing accused of horrid crimes. Our celebration reflects our survival and our desire for life—on Yom Kippur we turned from evil, and on Sukkot we do good. The two holidays are paired well together. One sets up for the other. The joy of Sukkot would never be as powerful without the trepidation of Yom Kippur.
Yom Kippur was a time for sober reflection about spiritual failures and about gaining the strength to live better, truer, purer lives. On Sukkot we rejoice, but our rejoicing is its own spiritual challenge. Rejoicing can lead to spiritual breakthroughs, but it can also endanger the carefully constructed sense of holiness that we achieved on Yom Kippur. Thus, this is not a time just to party, but it is one to think about the true nature of joy and the ability to rejoice in our fragile “huts”, as our ancestors did. That way we can infuse the New Year with holy happiness. I hope that your sukkot are filled with joy, delicious food and friendship, and I look forward to dwelling in our sukkah at CSI with you throughout this coming week.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach!
Rabbi Jeffrey Abraham