After the demanding High Holidays, we now find ourselves entering the “Time of Our Happiness”, Chag HaSukkot. What is it about Sukkot that brings this so-called “happiness”? Most simply, it refers to the agricultural joy of reaping the harvest. More profoundly, however, perhaps we can suggest how Sukkot represents a special kind of happiness between us and Gd.
Looking through the three main, pilgrimage holidays of the Jewish calendar -as depicted by the Torah- we begin with Pesach. Literally called “The Holiday of the matzot”, Pesach represents how Hashem defeated our enemies and brought us out of Egypt. Considering that we did very little to physically contribute to the Exodus, what we celebrate is the one-sided act of kindness by Gd. He took us out and saved us, all by Himself.
The next holiday, Shavuot, is the holiday of receiving the Torah. As the rabbis teach us, the Torah was offered to all of the nations, the Jewish people were willing to accept it. The Torah was also a gift from Gd, yet it was because we did something that it happened. So we see that the first two holidays represent first what Hashem did for us, and then what we did for Hashem. If that’s the case, what is left for Sukkot, the last of the three holidays?
As with any relationship, it progresses in stages. One party gives to the other, and hopefully the other reciprocates. It’s only once each party recognizes and appreciates the contribution of the other that they decide to dedicate themselves to each other. From another angle, after we’ve expressed our mutual care for each other, the Jewish people and Gd make a commitment. At the time of Rosh Hashana, Hashem comes closer -“dirshu Hashem be’matzo” (Isaiah 55:6)- ‘seek out Gd when He is close’. We, in turn, re-commit ourselves to Him, an engagement party, so-to-speak. And finally, on Yom Kippur, we wed and solidify that bond; a fresh new start to our relationship. After this marriage, there’s only one thing left to do: Honeymoon.
Sukkot is a time to enjoy with Gd- not only through the harvest, but through our renewed relationship. We vacation outside our homes and spend it under the protection of Gd. We enjoy new flowers and new fragrances with the Lulav and Etrog. We dance around the bimah, celebrate His Torah, and enjoy each other’s company. It’s a time to celebrate what is hopefully a newfound appreciation of one another, like a bride and a groom, enjoying their seven days of Sheva Brachot.