Rushing to Joy

Yom Rishon shel Sukkot, Holidays Leviticus 23:33-44

D'Var Torah By: Rabbi Andy Gordon

During the final moments of Yom Kippur, as the sun begins to set and everyone in the sanctuary glances hesitantly at their watches for the conclusion of the N'ilahN'ilahנְעִילָהLiterally, “locking.” The service that concludes Yom Kippur. The name alludes to the metaphorical locking of the heavenly gates at the end of the day. service, I look forward to reading one of my favorite passages from Mishkan HaNefesh, our Yom Kippur machzormachzorמַחְזוֹר"Cycle;" High Holiday prayerbook; plural: machzorim. :

"Our sages teach:
As soon as the fast of Yom Kippur concludes,
pound the first nail in the sukkah!
To everything there is a season -
a time for prayer and looking inward,
a time to go outside and build.
So it is written:
'One mitzvahmitzvahמִצְוָהLiterally, “commandment." A sacred obligation. Jewish tradition says the Torah contains 613 mitzvot Mitzvot refer to both religious and ethical obligations. inspires another.'
May this long day of fasting and self-denial
inspire acts of creativity, generosity, and joy.
May we go from strength to strength…"

Our rabbis teach that we should run from one mitzvah to another. According to tradition, minutes after we finish our Yom Kippur prayers, fasting, and self-denial, we should be ready to hammer in the first peg of the sukkahsukkahסֻכָּה"Booth" or "hut;" temporary structure associated with the agricultural festival of Sukkot; plural: sukkot. . This next holiday of Sukkot, just five days after Yom Kippur concludes, is the focus in this week's Torah portion: "On the fifteenth day of this seventh month there shall be the Feast of Booths to the Eternal..." (Leviticus 23:33). Our sages urged us to immediately move from the solemnity of Yom Kippur to begin building the sukkah where many will dwell, eat, and sleep over the weeklong holiday of Sukkot.

I love the Jewish value of running from one mitzvah to another! On the other hand, many in our community are exhausted after the High HolidaysHigh Holidaysיָמִים נוֹרָאִיםRosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur . After the 10-day marathon of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, can't we have a break? Instead, just five days later, we are ready to celebrate another holiday. Even more so, this isn't a one-day holiday! As the Torah teaches in this week's portion: "You shall observe it as a festival of the Eternal for seven days in the year; you shall observe it in the seventh month as a law for all time, throughout the ages" (Leviticus 33:41).

Why do we do this to ourselves? It all begins with joy. As Rabbi Naomi Levy teaches: "I find it fascinating that on Sukkot, you're commanded to have joy. It says ' v'samchtah b'chagecha v'hayita ach sameach - You shall rejoice on your festival and you shall only be happy!'"

The holiday of Sukkot has many names, but one of its most famous is Chag Simchateinu, which translates to "Our Holiday of Joy." After a day of fasting, beating our chests, self-denial, and introspection, we need time to celebrate. Many of us have done the hard work of t'shuvahT'shuvahתְּשׁוּבָה"Return;" The concept of repentance and new beginnings, which is a continuous theme throughout the High Holidays. to return to our best selves. We've looked inward to focus on self-growth and the betterment of our world. Our rabbis recognized that after this difficult time of introspection, we need joy!

One of the most interesting aspects of this holiday of Sukkot is its connection to living in booths. We read in this week's Torah portion, "You shall live in booths seven days all citizens in Israel shall live in booths" (Leviticus 23:42). Many of us eat meals, welcome guests, and even sleep in the sukkah over the week-long festival. Yet, Sukkot is different from almost every Jewish holiday which is tied to a specific historical event. For Passover, we focus on the Exodus, while on Shavuot we celebrate the gift of Torah. Hanukkah and Purim mark specific Jewish moments in history. Yet, Sukkot is different. As Rabbi Shai Held teaches in "The Heart of Torah, Volume 2":

"The striking answer is that Sukkot harkens back to… no particular event at all. Sukkot is the holiday that celebrates the non-holiday (the yontif that delights in the hol), the sacred time that celebrates regular time, the festival that celebrates not the high points but the morning after - and the morning after that as well."

How wonderful that after the deep introspection of the High Holidays we are commanded to spend an entire week focusing on living the Jewish value of joyfulness. Sukkot is a restart, an opportunity to move forward after the solemnity of Yom Kippur, and for an entire week. We celebrate the holiday with family and friends rather than in solitude.

As Sukkot begins, let's seize the opportunity to celebrate with joy. Let's take some time to be grateful for all of the blessings in our lives. Let's spend time in nature, whether in a sukkah or on a walk in the park, to see the miracle of creation. Let's remember the bounty of the fall harvest and the bountiful blessings in our lives. Let's use this moment to recalibrate our lives, focusing on joy, kindness, and blessings in the year ahead.

Originally published: