Thursday, September 24, 2015
Remembering What Matters- Why does Succot follow Yom Kippur?
Although it’s to be expected, the first mindless mitzvah I do after Yom Kippur always leaves me feeling very disappointed. Having spent weeks building up to Yom Kippur, with its conclusion where each word of Neilah is said with passion, care and intent, the inevitable descent always seems to happen so quickly. What has happened to the commitments we made while doing teshuva? Is there anything that can be done to help us internalize the gains we’ve made on Yom Kippur? How do we avoid simply going back to the life we lived before?
According to the Torah (Vayikrah 23:43) the mitzvah of Succot is to help us recall that God caused us to dwell in Succot when we left Egypt. Famously, the Tur asks why we recall something connected to the exodus from Egypt in Tishrei, rather than in Nissan when it occurred. While the Tur suggests one well-known reason, I’d like to suggest another one.
If asked to group Succot with other holidays, we might suggest Pesach and Shavuot, as they, along with Succot, make up the Shalosh Regalim. The Vilna Gaon suggests another grouping, based on proximity on the calendar. It is hard to imagine that it is simply by chance that Succot falls out right after Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. Surely there must be a connection, but what might it be?
In both the gemara, as well as in the Rambam, an emphasis is made on the idea that we are supposed to leave our homes, described as a “dirat keva” (permanent dwelling), and live in a sukkah, which is called a “dirat arai” (temporary dwelling). For seven days, or eight for those outside of Israel, we leave the comfort of our comfortable homes and live in a flimsy hut. There must be a message in making this change so soon after the Yamim Noraim. In fact, the Rema, Rav Moshe Isserles, suggests that one should start building his sukkah right after the conclusion of Yom Kippur, leading one to conclude that two holidays are connected.
On Yom Kippur, we emphasize our spiritual side to the exclusion of our physical reality. We avoid common physical pleasures, acting for one day, as if we are angels. We search deep inside and discover spiritual strengths we might not have known we possess. We set new goals, and make the decision to be more than we’ve been. Still, this purely spiritual state is ephemeral. As physical beings it must be so.
Despite the inevitable return to ordinary human life, the mitzvah of sukkah offers us something to take with us. Do not forget, it calls to us, that there are two sides to you. One is permanent and eternal, and one is temporary. We enter the month of Elul with things having gotten out of balance. We have taken the side of ourselves that we have on loan for a relatively short amount of time, and made it the focus of our lives. As we experience the Yamim Noraim, we get back in touch with the spiritual aspects of our existence. The Sukkah calls out to us, sounding like Shlomo Hamelech in Kohelet. Life is not about accruing wealth. No material pleasures last forever. Remember, calls the Sukkah, which part of your existence is permanent and which is temporary. Return to life, but do not return to normal. Remember what truly matters. Remember who you are and who you wish to be.