Oh, the brilliance of the Jewish calendar! Can you imagine what life would be like if right after Yom Kippur, right after we reach such an exalted state of closeness to the Almighty, right after we turn ourselves completely inside-out and reach that most incredible state of consciousness and awareness, if right after all that we would just jump right back into our regular life and daily grind? What a crash landing that would be!
But instead, the moment the curtain closes on Yom Kippur, a new door opens, a new incredible opportunity to grow spiritually but in an entirely different way.
What more could we achieve after Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur? We've woken up to the sound of the Shofar and invited God into our lives. We've immersed ourselves in His love, beseeching Him to remove all of the blockages that separate our hearts from feeling His presence. We've put our bodies on hold and let our souls be enraptured in the energy of these days. What is the next step?
Jewish tradition teaches us that we are supposed to serve God out of awe and out of love, with love obviously being the greater level of the two. That being said, if Rosh Hashanah, the 10 Days of Repentance and Yom Kippur are referred to as the "Days of Awe," clearly the next step would have to be the "Days of Love."
And that is the most accurate way to describe Sukkot: one big, warm, fuzzy hug from our Beloved in Heaven. Sitting in the Sukkah requires us to leave our regular state - living a life of expansion - and enter into a much smaller, intimate space. This space represents the loving embrace of the Almighty. The basic requirements of a Sukkah are two long, perpendicular walls and one short extending wall, which represents an arm reaching over to bring another closer. The roof, known as schach, requires us to be able to see the sky, to remind us that He is looking down on us and rejoicing with us.
For the next week and a half, we experience a time referred to in the Torah, as "the Time of our Joy." We sing, we dance and we celebrate all that we achieved during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. It is that final celebration, the hug that follows the intensity and captures the moment, that really allows those feelings to penetrate our hearts in the deepest way, escorting our new and improved selves into the brand new new year!
Last week we explored the deeper meaning of the holiday of Sukkot and how the Sukkah resembles a "divine embrace," a hug from the Almighty to capture the feeling of arriving at our destination. If we look further into the various mitzvot we perform over the holiday, we see this deep connection of love that is formed between God and the Jewish people being very explicitly portrayed throughout.
It is well known that the various species that we shake on Sukkot resemble various parts of the human body. The lulav resembles the spine. The leaves of the hadasim and aravot resemble the eyes and lips, respectively. And the etrog resembles the heart. The deeper sources expound on this idea and how it connects to the theme of the day.
The lulav is bound together with the hadasim and aravot creating a single unit, portraying that our bodies and desires (alluded to by the spine) are constantly being affected by the stimuli we take in through our eyes and mouth. By binding them together, we are showing that we are taking complete control of our physical desires. The etrog, on the other hand, reflects the heart, the seat of our emotions. It is by taking control of our physical desires that we can channel our emotions towards loftier goals.
Our Sages explain further. The lulav and its group, representing self-control of the physical desires, is more closely connected with man's spiritual focus, while the etrog, and its symbolism towards emotions and beauty, is more closely connected to a woman's spiritual focus. The tradition is to shake the lulav and etrog in the Sukkah. This act of taking the lulav and etrog, representing man and woman, holding them close together and bringing them into the Sukkah, represents a bride and groom coming together under the chuppah (wedding canopy) and creating a new bond of love. This represents the bond of love being formed between the Almighty and us.
It is no coincidence, therefore, that the second half of the holiday of Sukkot, known as Simchat Torah, closely resembles the part of the wedding that comes right after the chuppah: the celebration! We sing and dance until we drop celebrating this new union. By the time the holiday is over we have gone through the complete "wedding experience" and are ready to begin our new life. And as we enter the dark days of winter that immediately follow, we are confident that the vows that we made over these special days will be etched in our hearts and that we will experience a year like we have never had before.