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Shabbat Sukkot

October 1, 2009

By Doug Alpert

We tend to apprehend the present Hag HaSukkot by placing it within the context of the annual agricultural cycle. The notion of “dwelling in booths” (Vayikra 23:42-43) was compelled at least in part by the need to not stray to far from the fields during harvest. We also tend to understand Sukkot within its role as one of the Shalosh
, the three pilgrimage festivals. While these two approaches to garnering greater understanding of the Hag still resonate in an appropriate way, I would suggest another means by which we can place Hag HaSukkot within our annual cycle of Jewish life.

As with much of life, we understand how we arrive at Sukkot by understanding from whence we came. Specifically, Sukkot serves as a vital jumping off point from Yom Kippur, giving us the means by which to use our very individual introspection for good, and turn a time of individual
contemplation and thought toward a time of positive activity and communal behavior.

Joel Roth in his essay “Shabbat and the Holidays” traces the development of Yom
. In chapter 23 of Vayikra “intimations of personal atonement can be easily read . . . the two non-pilgrimage holidays of the seventh month became in Rabbinic tradition, and in subsequent Jewish practice, the most personal holidays, focused on individual responsibility for one’s action . . .” Indeed, Mishnah Yoma, 8:9 in addressing whether Yom Kippur will or will not properly effect
atonement is written in singular form, not plural. Jill Hammer in her work, The
Jewish Book of Days
, aptly observes that on “Yom Kippur we fast to focus ourselves on the more difficult inner harvest.”

And, the “inner harvest” is difficult. Notwithstanding Blu Greenberg’s appropriate suggestion that Yom Kippur, while being the most solemn day of the year is neither sad nor even somber, it is hard for our psyches to circumvent the Torahitic edict that it is a day to afflict our souls. (Vayikra 23:27). We
prohibit ourselves nourishment, cleansing, sex, etc. toward that very end. While we may feel an emotional uptick by the end of Ne’ilah, my overall sense of the day, both for myself and those with whom I spend the day in shul is one of affliction, and weariness.

As Yom Kippur provides us with a much needed opportunity to reflect on our own behavior, Sukkot, following immediately thereafter creates for us an environment to act on our reflection, and to uphold the vows just made. It is the antidote to our weariness and affliction, a time of joy and communal
activity that perfectly positions us to act in the year to come. In that context it makes perfect sense that the Shulhan Arukh requires that the building of the Sukkah should commence immediately after Yom Kippur. (Orah Hayyim 625:1)

Nehama Leibowitz observes that in Parashat Emor in Vayikra (chapter 23),
the word akh is
used both in Vayikra 23:27 in regard to Yom Kippur, and in Vayikra 23:39 in regard to Sukkot. She translates the word as “only” while other translations use “indeed.” According to Leibowitz, the word has a limiting effect. Citing Ibn Ezra and Rashbam she states that the word is employed to emphasize the contrast between the rejoicing of Sukkot, and the fasting of Yom Kippur. It is a contrast between the Sukkot rejoicing and the fasting and afflictions of Yom Kippur preceding it.

Sukkot also serves as a contrast and shift from Yom Kippur in its more communal
emphasis. Isaac Klein remarks that in binding the four species represented by the lulav and etrog, and pronouncing the benediction over them, “we assert that the unity must include all segments of the community; only when each has its proper place, can there be a benediction.”

Samson Raphael Hirsch saw the Sukkah as a symbol of universal peace and
brotherhood. Klein further sees Sukkot as the opportunity for the unification of the human personality and of the Jewish
people, which “leads our thoughts to the unity and interdependence of all humanity – i.e., to the Messianic ideal.” Thus, according to Mordechai Kaplan, the happiness and rejoicing we seek on Sukkot are experienced “whenever the human being, in all his relationships, participates in the fulfillment of some specific need, or needs . . .” All of this is to say that Sukkot provides us the opportunity to get outside of our introspective selves, and see the other in our relationships, to invite others into our Sukkah and into our lives. May this Hag Ha’asif, this Festival of Ingathering be a season of rejoicing – zeman simhateinu – for all of us.


Alpert is a rabbinical student at The Academy of Jewish Religion. He is also
the rabbinic intern at Congregation Ohev Sholom in the Kansas City area where he also is an
instructor in the Melton Adult Jewish Education Program.