Let’s talk about the difference between Yom Kippur joy and Sukkot joy, because yes – both holidays are supposed to be joyful! Yom Kippur joy is letting go of the barriers we’ve put up in our lives against joy. The shoulds, the fear, the plans, the things we hide away. It’s a clean-out, and havdalah on Yom Kippur is meant to be that deep breath after you’ve scoured the house and everything is back in its place.
Then, just days after Yom Kippur, we begin Sukkot, zman simchateinu, the time of our joy. But we just did joy! Why do it again so soon? Why do we read Ecclesiastes/Kohelet, a pretty depressing megillah? It’s seemingly contradictory.
It’s not, though, because Sukkot asks us for a different kind of joy. Unlike Yom Kippur’s joy – the joy of everything being where it should be again, Sukkot’s joy is a joy that is put into practice. Sukkot is our first chance to see what has changed as a result of all our work in Elul and Tishrei. Sukkot challenges us to *sustain* joy, come what may, by asking us a lot of important questions.
- Can we be happy when our sukkah blows away on day 2 and we have to rebuild it?
- Can we find joy even when we’re cold and getting rained on outdoors?
- Can we maintain hospitality for others even in a cramped and inhospitable structure?
- Can we live our values even when everything conspires against them?
- Will we joyfully obey the commandments, even those that make us look silly (looking at you, lulav and etrog-waving), AND bless God in the process?
- Will we be able to sustain that joy day after day, no matter what is thrown at us?
- Will we bless God with all the words of blessing we know, in the midst of all this tsuris?
- Will we read an angsty megillah and see the truth in it, but choose also to see the joy in that which is impermanent?
For as abstract and different as Yom Kippur is, Sukkot is real, visceral, and vulnerable. Yom Kippur is incredibly important, but we cannot spend our days ignoring our bodies and the wider world to make ourselves better people. It’s just not possible. Sukkot is where God asks us to practice *sustained* and *sustainable* joy and blessing and it is the start of the marathon after the sprint of Yom Kippur.
“This is how you actually learn to live in joy!” God whispers to us in the wind. “When your home is a mess, invite people in. Even when the weather is terrible and the conditions are less than ideal. When you see that everything around you is transient, have the courage to love again and rebuild. When you feel silly doing the right thing or expressing your joy in life, put words of blessing in your mouth and remember I’m everywhere.”
Sukkot asks us to put into our bodies all the words we said about living better during Yom Kippur, and actually LIVE them.
This Sukkot, I hope you take advantage of our beautiful Sukkah at the shul. It’s open to you and your friends throughout the holiday to enjoy a meal, work, play board games together, or nap. No sign up necessary. And join us all on Shabbat to celebrate together – let’s let the little stuff go and live joyfully as a community this season!
Rabbi Sara Zober