It’s a small window of time—usually lasting only about five to six hours. It happens only once and it’s the most wonderful time of the year. The event falls right after the closing of Yom Kippur and before sunrise the following morning.
After fasting and praying all day, begging God for forgiveness we’ve arrived at this moment in time. The sun sets, giving us a break from the heat of the day and the nourishment gives rise to a new energy within our stomachs. Then, the magic happens. Suddenly, as if in complete unison, the country grabs her hammer and nails and the building of our sukkot (“booths”) begins. Outside, you can hear the hammering and the building in every home. Children pull out their decorations they made at school and mothers bring out the snacks. Fathers yell out instructions while palm trees are dragged through houses to the porches where the sukkot are being built.
Many mystics say that the month of Tishrei is the month that defines the rest of our year. The first half of the month is filled with introspection and begging HaShem for forgiveness. The second half of the month is rejoicing in the forgiveness we sought as our mourning has turned into joy.
This time of the year, according to the Jewish mystics, is when the secrets of the year are unlocked. During Tishrei we head out to our porches, cook massive festive meals, invite friends over, and request the presence of a special holy guest every night. Throughout the week you can hear songs containing praise and blessings for the provision we’ve received arising from various tables. During the lunch hour one can overhear the neighbors conversing and at night you can smell the aroma of their dinner. It’s odd, really, that God would ask us to go out and live in booths, leaving the comforts of our homes, overhearing our neighbors, and avoiding the warmth of our beds to sleep under the stars with the bugs for a whole week. It’s ironic that such a call to vulnerability is demanded of us right after we’ve wiped the slate clean.
It is scary, in many ways, to start over in a booth that exposes us to the world. Just moments after HaShem has held us, forgiven us, and renewed us, he places us outside and subject to the elements. The week of our joy is also the week of our testing. We place ourselves outside of our own comfort, joining our brothers and sisters, exposed to our vulnerabilities and ourselves.
The four species that we wave daily is a reminder of the different types of people who sit under the sukkah. As different individuals, we are collectively a nation, sitting together, defenseless and shaken. We have seven days as a nation to overcome our vulnerabilities, live in the elements and prepare ourselves for Simchat Torah. It’s only through our vulnerability that we can unite. After all, when has anyone ever become closer to anyone else without a good healthy dose of vulnerability? Perhaps this is why HaShem asks his people to live unprotected for an entire week. Through our susceptibility, we learn to trust and rely on God’s provision for us. We learn to move outside, sleep under the stars, and trust that HaShem will provide for us under his canopy of peace.
The Talmud states, “It is fitting that all of Israel should dwell in a single sukkah”(Sukkah 27b).
While this act is not possible in the physical sense, we are able to create a spiritual sukkah with our actions. It becomes a reality when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable, putting ourselves out and working on being better human beings. Together, during the months of Elul and Tishrei, we make ourselves uncomfortable in anticipation of the celebration of God’s Torah. As a united people, we can use these days to prepare ourselves for HaShem’s gift that binds us together and with which he has chosen to entrust us. We prove to HaShem that we are scared, vulnerable, and maybe even a little uncomfortable, but ready.
We are ready to be the people he demands us to be. Ready to be his united nation. Ready to receive the gift that has kept our people thriving for thousands of years. We use this time of exposure to prove to HaShem that we are willing to do whatever it takes in order to share in his trust. That we are willing to move our lives outside in a unified act of vulnerability in order to become one again. Through the act of putting ourselves out there and following HaShem’s commandments, we prove not only to ourselves but also to the world that we are a set-apart people.
May your Sukkot be filled with joy and happiness and may we all use this opportunity to become the holy beings HaShem created us to be.