Unlike the first ten days of Tishrei, from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur, when we may experience a feeling of awe, Sukkot is called “Z’man Simchateinu—A Season for our rejoicing.” Joy is a pleasure we may enjoy, but why is it also a Mitsvah?
The mitzvah of Sukkot is described in Leviticus (23: 33-44) as follows: “On the 15th day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the fruits of the land, you shall observe the feast of the Lord for seven days. On the first day you shall take the fruit of goodly trees (Etrog), branches of palm trees (Lulav), and branches of thick trees (Hadasim) and willows of the brook (Aravot), and rejoice before the Lord your God seven days… Dwell in booths [Sukkot] seven days… So that your generations may know that in booths I made the children of Israel dwell, when I brought them out from the land of Egypt”.
In Deuteronomy (16: 13-15), the Torah again tells us about Sukkot; “The feast of Sukkot you shall keep for seven days when you have gathered in from your threshing floor and from your wine press. You shall rejoice in your feast, you and your son and your daughter, your man-servant, your maid-servant and the Levi, the stranger (convert), the orphan and the widow that are within your gates.
“Seven days you shall keep a feast unto the L-rd your G-d in the place which the Lord shall choose; because the Lord your God will bless you in all your crops and in all your undertakings and you shall be joyful”.
Three times the Torah commands us to be joyful and to rejoice during Sukkot. Sukkot is celebrated after the harvest when Israel can truly rejoice with God’s material blessings.
Our sages find a deeper meaning why Sukkot is the most joyous holiday. Sukkot comes after Yom Kippur – the day of Atonement. Thus, all Jews who were in any Reform, Renewal, Conservative or Orthodox synagogue on Yom Kippur, and who repented even to any degree, can celebrate the Sukkot holiday as equals, for we are now free of some degree of spiritual transgressions. This should call upon us for great rejoicing.
One of the many lessons of Sukkot is that it reminds us of the importance of unity. The Torah tells us, “You shall rejoice in your feast, you and your son and your daughter and your man-servant and your maid-servant and the Levi and the stranger and the orphan and the widow that are within your gates…” emphasizing the concept of unity.
According to the Torah, true rejoicing can only be achieved when we are united and include the various minority groups within our community, as emphasized in the Torah, “your man-servant, maid-servant, the Levi, the stranger (convert), the orphan and the widow.”
But Levites and converts to Judaism (the stranger) are not less fortunate than most of us. This teaches us that unity means including those who are different i.e. Jews by inheritance and Jews by choice, as well as Jews who are more religious or less religious than we are.
The Sukkot holiday teaches us the importance of unity and the great joy that comes from diversity and pluralism
The four different kinds of tree products in the lulov and etrog are necessary for observing Sukkot, just as accepting the four different denominations of Judaism are necessary for Jewish unity. Joy results not from conformity to one path, or one interpretation of Torah.
Joy results from the feeling of acceptance and caring for each other that comes from respecting differences: a harmony in diversity.