This Shabbat falls during the festival of Sukkot (the Feast of Tabernacles). As such, we drift away from the normal weekly Torah reading cycle and read passages specifically for the holiday. Tomorrow’s special readings (Exodus 33:12-34:26 and Numbers 29:26-31) describe the mo’edim, the appointed festivals when G-d chooses to meet with us in a greater manifest way. We also read the direct instructions relating specifically to the observance of Sukkot.
The word mo’ed, in Hebrew, means a set apart time, or literally, an appointment. Each of the Jewish holidays are meant to carry a specific message and theme, and interact with different aspects of who G-d is. They are opportunities for an encounter of the deepest and most spiritual kind.
We just observed Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. Unlike the rest of the world, we Jews interestingly do not begin our New Year with joyous celebrations. Instead, the High Holidays are a solemn time of Cheshbon HaNefesh – reflection, repentance, and standing before Our G-d and King, the Creator of the Universe.
Although the themes and prayers of the High Holidays are solemn and serious they are also filled with joy and with hope. Judaism teaches that G-d is ready and very willing to forgive the transgressions of those who come in sincere repentance. As such, there is a very deep connection between the High Holidays and Sukkot. The festival of Sukkot is also known within our texts and liturgy as Z’man Simchateinu – the “Time of our Rejoicing.”
We begin our New Year with reflection and repentance so that we can more deeply and sincerely rejoice during Sukkot. When one has been forgiven much and knows their slate has been wiped clean before G-d, there is an even greater cause for joy and celebration.
On this holiday we are to dwell in Sukkot – reminders of the temporal nature of our lives, and take up the Four Species (the Lulav and Etrog) to praise HaShem. Sukkot is our time to rejoice and take hold of the fact that G-d is in control. It is our time to delve deeper into G-d, His Torah, and his purposes for each one of us. The Etrog represents those characteristics about us that are sweet and pleasant. Like the Etrog – May each of us embody that sweetness and exude that fragrance throughout this special season and into the rest of the year.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Same’ach!