This Week In Torah
We just finished observing Yom Kippur last Saturday. No sooner does Yom Kippur end, do we begin gearing up for the Festival of Sukkot which begins on Thursday, September 19/15 Tishrei 5774. In fact, it is customary to begin building a sukkah as soon as we arrive home from Yom Kippur services. In addition, Hoshanah Rabbah, part of the festival of Sukkot, is considered by many to be the “extension of the deadline” of Yom Kippur, namely the last chance for any teshuvah we failed to complete by Yom Kippur. Thus, our Jewish tradition sees Yom Kippur and Sukkot as intricately connected.
Let’s examine the striking differences between these two holidays.
Yom Kippur is a day where we physically deprive ourselves. The central mitzvah of Yom Kippur is known as inui nefesh, the affliction of the body, forbidding us to eat, drink wash, and engage in intimate relations. Sukkot, in contrast, emphasizes sensual gratification. It is a holiday of smells (the lulav and etrog), sights (beautifully decorated sukkahs), and tastes (delicious festive meals).
Whereas Yom Kippur is a reflective, introspective holiday, a day for searching one’s soul, looking at who we are and who we aspire to be, Sukkot, is an exterior or physical holiday; the commandments associated with Sukkot are physical: to build a sukkah, to wave the lulav, to dwell in the sukkah.
The intangible themes of Yom Kippur such as God’s judgment and mercy, atonement, confession, are especially hard for children to understand. Sukkot, on the other hand, is a great holiday for children because it is so concrete with varied things for children to do, from creating decorations, learning how to wave the lulav, eating and sleeping the sukkah.
The relationship between these two holidays has been compared to the flexing and relaxing of a muscle. Yom Kippur is the day where we discipline ourselves to do what is not easy – take a cold, hard look at our actions of the previous year. After the effort of this spiritually challenging exercise, the muscles of our hearts and minds need a break, a time where we gather together to celebrate and rejoice in a simpler fashion. Sukkot allows us to do just that.
At this time, I would like to wish all of you a Chag Sameach!