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Commentary for Sukkot

18 Sep

The High Holy Day period can be a tough time. At the beginning of the month of Elul, a full month before Rosh Hashanah, we start to reflect on the past year. We dig up all of our sins, for the next forty days, we try to make restitution for them. We apologize to those we have hurt, and try to identify strategies for not making the same mistakes again. From the beginning of Slichot until the end of Yom Kippur we spent long hours in shul, praying for Divine mercy and humbling ourselves before God. We bow low before God. On Yom Kippur we forgo bodily needs such as food and water, and we say “before I was formed, I was unworthy, and now that I have been formed, I am still the same as if I had not been formed. I am but dust in my life, so surely I shall be dust in my death. Behold- before You I am a vessel filled with shame and humiliation.” We confess our transgressions and we acknowledge that our lives are in God’s hands. Obviously this is a necessary and important thing to, but that does not change the fact that it is usually quite depressing.

After the High Holy Days we can often be quite down on ourselves. Anyone would be after spending over a month going through the past year with a fine-toothed comb specifically to see what you have done wrong. While this attitude of extreme sadness and humility is desirable during the High Holy days, it is not something we should carry with us for the rest of the year. Five days after Yom Kippur comes Sukkot, referred to in it’s Kiddush as “the time of our happiness,” to help us find the right balance for the rest of the year.

Sukkot is a holiday all about balance. For most Jews, Sukkot is defined by its two major ritual objects: the sukkah and the lulav and etrog bundle. The sukkah is a meager shelter that takes a lot of effort to build. If it is too big or the roof is too good, it is unkosher. Living in this bare-bones hut, especially when it is right next to our nice, modern houses, symbolizes the humility we have come to know from the High Holy Day season, but the sukkah also helps to raise us up as well. While the sukkah is not allowed to be too big or to have too good a roof, a sukkah is also unkosher if it is too small, or if the roof is not good enough, or if the walls do not provide enough protection. While we might be humbled by it, the sukkah also reminds us that we are not nothing. We have put a lot of hard work into our sukkah, and it is okay to be proud of it.

The lulav and etrog bundle also symbolizes balance. It is made up of four parts; the lulav (date palm), the hadas (mertyle), the aravah (willow) and the etrog. The etrog both provides food and has a smell. The lulav only provides food, while the hadas only has a smell. The aravah does neither, but it is just as essential for the whole as the etrog, which does both. Compared to building a sukkah, acquiring a lulav and etrog bundle is quite simple. All you have to do is find someone who is selling them, and buy one. Despite this, we still take as much pride in our lulav and etrog as we do in our sukkah, and often pay for fancy holders for them and try to find etrogs that are as perfectly yellow as possible.

Sukkot, the time of our happiness, works to counteract the sadness that often comes with the High Holy Day Period. We try to retain our newfound humility, but we temper it with the sense of pride and joy worthy of a holiday, to help us get adjusted to the rest of the year.

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