We come out of the Rosh Hashanah – Yom Kippur Te'shuvah = repentance and atonement experience, with a joy in our new perspectives about life and closeness with God. These feelings of joy and closeness to God can be given expression through the 'mitzvah' of the ' sukkah' and the other commandments of the holiday Sukkoth. We leave our permanent homes and dwell in God's shadow – the sukkah. We no longer need the protection of a permanent dwelling. Being closer to nature, without the barrier of physical structures, we feel God's closeness and protection in a temporary booth. Our new trust and closeness with God makes us feel less threatened by others and more accepting of other people. Sukkoth is called the festival of happiness and we are happy with life itself and our relationship with God.
The other pilgrim festivals - Pe'sach and Shavuot have good reasons for experiencing joy and simchah. Pe'sach comes when it is spring - when the barley begins to ripen. It is also the spring of the nation who gained their freedom from the Egyptian slavery. The fruits of this freedom are not harvested until Shavuot, when the Torah was given on Mount Sinai. Shavuot is called Chag Ha'katzir when the actual crops are harvested. Sukkot is called Chag Ha'asif – the festival of the ingathering of the crops at the close of the year. On a spiritual level we ' gather in' the lessons of life which God and his creation have taught us over the past year. We then spend a week being very close to God and happy with our relationship and his creation.
Although we received the Torah on Shavuot, we will not be able to totally appreciate the Torah and the world until the messianic period. Chag Ha'asif hints to this period where the ' ingathering of crops ' on a spiritual level refers to our new understanding of God and his creation.
Rabbi Eliyahu Meir Bloch, a Rosh Yeshivah from Telse, explains that Sukkot is essentially a glimpse into the messianic period. When we hear of bad news, we bless God as the ultimate and true judge. When we hear good news we bless God as being the ultimate of Good and He does good. In the messianic period we will have the perspective to see God's goodness behind both good and bad tidings.
On sukkot , this new perspective allows us to find joy in leaving our homes in order to be in a temporary 'sukkah' a symbol of being in ' ga'lut' = exile. In the sukkah we also have the positive experience of being in the shadow of God , similar to the clouds of glory that protected the Israelites in the desert. Ga'lut = exile is now only a positive experience.
The 4 plant species=' 4 minim' are pointed and waved during prayers in different directions in order to invoke God's blessing of rain on the world. They also symbolize the unity of the Jewish people. The ' etrog' = citron which has both taste and a pleasant aroma symbolizes the scholar who possesses scholarship and good deeds, the lulav= the palm tree branch has fruit – the date which has taste= scholarship but has no aroma= good deeds. It symbolizes the scholar who lacks good deeds, the myrtle=hadas has aroma but no taste, symbolizes a person who has good deeds but is deficient in Torah learning. The willow lacks both taste and aroma. On sukkot we are happy with everyone, and bless God who is good and does good even to those people who don't have taste or aroma.
The sacrifices are often accompanied by song = shi'ra and the wine libations – nisuch ha'ya'yin. The principle is ' ein shi'ra e'la ul ha'ya'yin. There is ' song' only with wine, because only wine has the ability to elicit joy and song. On sukkot we don't have any special reasons to be happy except life itself. And it is for this reason we are happy even with ' plain water '. We celebrate the gift of water with the ' simchat beit ha'sho'evah ' and accompanying the daily sacrifice with water libations in the hope and prayer for the blessing of rain.
During the year we suffer from the nations of the world who pursue Israel like 70 wolves. But on Sukkot, we wear different lenses and see only the good in the nations, and thus we bring 70 sacrifices for well-being of the seventy nations.
We need to leave our permanent dwellings for the temporary structures of Succoth in order to enjoy the heavenly, spiritual and 'futuristic ' happiness of the messianic period. But our spiritual demands and aspirations are to leave the sukkah and take with us its eternal messages and combine ' heaven and earth '. On she'mini a'tzeret, the 8th day of our celebration, we leave our Succoth and return to our homes. For 7 days we were God's guests in His sukkah. Now, we invite God as a permanent guest back into our homes and try to live 'eternal lives ' and enjoy ' a futuristic happiness ' where we can see God's positive hand in all the creation. May we see only good in our kids and family and see problems as opportunities for growth and becoming closer to God.