The jump from Yom Kippur to Sukkot appears gigantic. Two different solitudes: one a day of judgment with fasting and solemnity; the other a festival whose very name is zman simchatainu – a time of rejoicing. We stand in the shadow of Yom Kippur just concluded and in anticipation of Sukkot this coming week. Two unconnected events or maybe not.
According to Jewish law, immediately after breaking our fast we are to go outside and at least start the building of our sukkah. Our rabbis were not general contractors setting up a time line to meet a deadline. There are still four days to get it done so why push it? But it appears that Yom Kippur and the sukkah are really an extension, one of the other. The essence of the sukkah is what Yom Kippur was all about. One complements the other. If you really want to experience Yom Kippur, then build a sukkah!
The very essence of the Jewish People is the ability to maintain a delicate balance between worry and concern for the future with the ability to find reason enough to celebrate life with joy and determination despite the uncertainty that exists. Yom Kippur and Sukkot are kindred spirits representing the co-existence of these two realities of Jewish life.
On Yom Kippur we had a real personal one-on-one with God. It’s the day that God is closest to each of us and the very nature of the day brings us up a notch, truly feeling a connection with the Creator. In the light of this special day, I am able to see my life and the world in a slightly different fashion and resolve to make some adjustments more to His/Her way of thinking. At the same time we let God know that He created the human situation a little less than perfectly and so forgiveness is in the air. Hopefully, there is room for some give -and-take but no guarantees. On the way out after Neilah, God says: “You know – Salachti Kidvarecha; I shall forgive you, as you said!”
Pretty neat, but it’s not so simple. ‘Salachti Kidvarecha’ is not an answer but a condition. Your forgiveness is dependent upon ‘devarecha’ your frame of mind and your actions to back up your Yom Kippur words. On Yom Kippur your future world was shaky but you were determined to work out a deal. You left with good and optimistic feelings but nothing absolute. So how do we back it up?
I go out and build a house of joy – a sukkah – worthy of brachah even as I ponder my fate which is yet to be disclosed. I make plans for the future and I implement them despite lingering doubts about my future. My resolute action sets up ‘Kidvarecha’ so as to be worthy of God’s ‘Salachti’.
A sukkah, like life itself, is frail, fragile and very temporary. But that doesn’t stop me from filling it, wall-to-wall, with simchah and celebration. I literally take dead wood or leaves – the sukkah roof called schach – and breathe life into them creating a celebration of life. I start immediately after Yom Kippur and continue on through the Festival of Sukkot and thereafter, everyday, showing through my actions that I am worthy of God’s continuing trust. I know how to make the blessing of life something long lasting.
How did I do on Yom Kippur to warrant ‘Salachti’? Well, that all depends on the ‘Devarim’, the positive attitude I display as I face the challenges in a very shaky and uncertain world.
So God checks out our sukkah so as to wrap up His/Her Yom Kippur books. My ‘Devarim’ on Sukkot and thereafter is a validation of my sincerity about the purpose of my life as shared with God on Yom Kippur. Sukkot gives us a heads-up so as to set the pattern and tone for the weeks and months to come. The sukkah itself might be flimsy and fragile but by adding the human dimension, we have the making of yamim tovim, great days of meaningful joy and celebration.
We can make God’s job easier this year by living it up in a sukkah and making it our entry point for a continuing year of joyous and successful life. Gmar Tov and Chag Sameach.
Rabbi Mordecai Zeitz is spiritual leader at Congregation Beth Tikvah Ahavat Shalom Nusach Hoari in Montreal.