The festival of Sukkot is called “the Season of our Rejoicing – z’man simhateinu.” What is the cause – the source – of our rejoicing? What are we supposed to be happy about?
As I have explained on numerous occasions, this description of Sukkot parallels but is also different from the descriptions we have assigned to the other two pilgrimage festivals, Passover and Shavuot. Sukkot does not commemorate a specific occurrence such as the Exodus (Passover is z’man herutenu – the Time of Our Freedom) or the Giving of the Torah (Shavuot is z’man matan Toratenu – the Time of the Giving of Our Torah).
There is no one moment or anniversary that Sukkot commemorates. Rather, it is supposed to remind us of our wandering in the desert under God’s constant care. God commands us to dwell in these temporary booths “so that your generations may know that it was in sukkahs that I housed the Children of Israel when I took them out of Egypt.” (Lev. 23:43)
What a strange reason for happiness! After all, our forty years of wandering in the wilderness were not a happy time! Yet, the holiday is meant to be the happiest of all our festivals.
Perhaps a few clues can be noticed from the text of this commandment’s justification and from the reality of the sukkah itself. God is saying that this observance is future oriented – “so that your generations may know.” The happiness we are to experience is not a recreation of the happiness we felt in the wilderness. That time was a time of many grumblings and plagues and of fear and starvation and thirst. No, we are meant to be happy, not in imitation of that time, but in appreciation of our having gotten past that time. Our joy is the joy of resilience. It is the joy of generations that have followed that beleaguered desert generation, the joy of those who have somehow survived the trials and tribulations of the wilderness epoch.
We are struggling right now to keep on going through a wilderness of deprivation, suffering and confusion. Yet, somehow, we keep on moving forward. The hut we are to dwell in is an incomplete, temporary structure. It is not a monument to power or security. It is a monument to getting by, to being resilient and hopeful.
Our tradition tells us that the shade thrown by the ramshackle roof of the sukkah is none other than the Shadow of Faith. With steadfast faith we can reach a time of our joy.
Shabbat Shalom v’Hag Same`ah!
Rabbi David Greenstein
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Thank you to John Lasiter for suggesting the title and selecting an image for this Torah Sparks – Rabbi Greenstein
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