A friend once told me, “My dad says his favorite time of the year is the night after Yom Kippur – because Yom Kippur will never be so far away again!” I suspect that is a sentiment shared by many, if not most of us. Think about it – the standard greeting is, “have an easy and meaningful fast.” If the fast is meaningful, who cares if it’s easy?
Rabbi Chaim Halberstam of Sanz (1793–1876) once asked, “why is it that moments after the end of Yom Kippur, we stand before G-d, during the Arvit service, and again plead slach lanu Avinu ki chatanu – forgive us, Father, for we have sinned? What sins could we possibly have committed in those few moments?!” And he answered – for the sin of not believing that He truly has forgiven us on Yom Kippur!”
At some level, most of us believe that we’ve been pardoned – but that’s because He is infinitely benevolent, enormously kind, and immensely forgiving. But we think it has very little to do with us. In what we consider our heart of hearts, we suspect/believe that very little about us has changed. And that is the sin, not recognizing that, in truth, everything has changed. For at least one instant, He gave us a glimpse of our innermost selves; in that instant, we received the ability to change everything.
It doesn’t matter what we call that inner self; call it the subconscious, the anima, the spirit, the inner child, the core, the soul, the neshama – that essential self that is good, pure, and forever unsullied. That is who we get a glimpse of on Yom Kippur – our authentic, essential self. But alas, for so many of us, as soon as the shofar sounds and the “real” world comes rushing back, we revert to our comfortable, miserable self-definition, “I’m nowhere near being great.” Does G-d love me?? Me?
It is that question that explains the paradox of Sukkot. There seems to be no rational explanation for why Sukkot is on the fifteenth day of Tishrei, just as the weather is turning cold and the rains are here. As I type these words, workers take down the gazebo on my deck and fold up the patio furniture. Historically Sukkot should be on the sixteenth day of Nisan when the Jewish nation, having exited Egypt, “camped in Sukkot”(Num 33:5) a day after Pesach! Why is it in the fall?
The standard explanation is that if Sukkot were in the spring, people would associate it with the universal spring ritual of moving outdoors to enjoy the beautiful weather; now that it’s in the fall, people understand there must be a deeper reason. By that logic, Chanukah ought to be in the summer to keep people from associating the lights of Chanukah with the darkness of the winter solstice!
I would suggest that the main reason Sukkot is tonight is for people like me who have not yet gotten the central message of Yom Kippur: G-d loves me. He loves me, and He loves every one of us exactly as we are. That is why He gave us Sukkot now. A sukkah is His hug to us. It is a Mitzva like no other; it surrounds us on all sides, and, in the words of the Talmud, “all of Israel are fit to dwell in one Sukkah. And this year,
He underscores that message this year when He says on the second day of Sukkot in the year following the Shmitah-Sabbatical year, “Hakhel gather the ENTIRE nation men, women, children even the infants to hear my words.” Because every one of you is precious, I love each of you.
“I love you,” He says to everyone, yes, every one of us. Even though it’s no longer Yom Kippur, Yom Kippur won’t be back for another year. Yes, even now, as you reenter a world that is getting colder and dark is coming earlier, it’s precisely in that world where I want to hug you and let you know I love you. I do.