Often repeated during the High Holiday season:
“What are you celebrating now?”
“Who cares? We Jews always pray, eat, and are merry!”
During prayers on every Jewish holiday, we mention “Mo’adim L’Simcha,” a holiday to rejoice. Yet, on Sukkot there is an extra emphasis on being happy and celebrating.
Why does this joyful time come right after the more serious and contemplative holidays?
There is a great influx of spiritual energy during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur that creates an awe in G-d, perhaps the reason our shuls and synagogues fill. We are then given the holiday of Sukkot, a precious mitzvah for channeling all the seriousness of the High Holidays into a year of joy and unity.
Unity is another running theme during Sukkot.
The Lulav and Etrog
In “Ethics of Our Fathers” (1.2), Shimon the Tzaddik said the world stands on three pillars: Torah, Avodah, and Gemilut Chasadim — learning, service (which refers to prayer), and acts of kindness. He teaches us that a well-balanced world cannot exist of only scholars or only kindness; we need a combination of talent and methods of service.
The four species — the lulav (palm, willow, and myrtle) and etrog (citron) — represent all types of Jews. We need all of them together to make the blessing. So too, each Jew, no matter how different is important and necessary.
The Holy Temple
There are three holidays of pilgrimage, when all the Jews traveled to Jerusalem for the special service and to offer sacrifices. Sukkot is one of those times when the nation gathered together.
We were given the commandment to dwell in booths. When we enter the sukkah, we are surrounded on all sides. It unites everything within.
Even before we were given the mitzvah of Sukkot, Abraham had his version. It was made from a tree rooted in the ground where he would serve his guests. A big strong tree representing deep roots but limited in area.
After the giving of the Torah, one of the requirements of the sukkah is that it be disconnected from its roots. The “roof” is made of growing things, (i.e. bamboo, pine needles) but they have to be uprooted. The benefit? A bigger, widespread space that allows more individuals to come together under one sukkah.
And, when Moshiach (the messiah) comes our sukkah will not have any limitations, bringing us the ultimate unity where we will be able to celebrate Sukkot in the third and final Temple.
May it be speedily in our days.