As we transition from Yom Kippur to Succot, from the intensity of the Yamim Noraim to the excitement of Chag Succot, we must consider a fundamental question. What exactly is Succot doing here, at this time of the year?
This question is famously raised by the Tur. He points out that the Succot commemorates two experiences that Am Yisrael encountered in the desert following their exodus from Egypt- firstly the Clouds of Glory that surrounded them as they traveled though the desert, and secondly the actual huts that the nation lived in during the desert. Both of those experiences occurred after the Jews left Egypt, soon after the Chag of Pesach. So wouldn’t it be more appropriate to celebrate Succot right after Pesach? Why instead celebrate Succot many months later, during the month of Tishrei, which itself already has many other Chagim associated with it?
Many answers are offered to this question. One type of answer offered is that the Torah specifically wanted Succot to be celebrated right after the Yamim Noraim- because of the significance in juxtaposing Succot to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. What might be the significance? Perhaps we can make the following suggestion.
The Yamim Noraim represent a type of personal renewal. Through the intensive process of teshuva, self-reflection, and atonement, we each strive to undergo a spiritual transformation over the course of the Aseret Yemei Teshuva. This process climaxes with Yom Kippur- as a combination of the day itself, our sincere repentance, and our elevated spirituality, helps us achieve a purification and spiritual cleansing not possible to achieve at any other point of the year. One some level, on Motzei Yom Kippur, we are spiritually re-born- a new being whose slate has been wiped clean, and is beginning again. But where do we go from there?
From there, the Torah directs us to enter into the Chag of Succot. It is striking to note that the 5 days between Yom Kippur and Succot is the smallest amount of time between two Chagim at any point during the year- almost as if the Torah is guiding us from Yom Kippur directly into Succot. What does Succot represent, and why is it the appropriate continuation of the Yom Kippur experience?
I have long felt that at its core, the Succah itself symbolizes the loving embrace of G-d. We mentioned above that the Succah commemorates the Clouds of Glory that accompanied the fledgling nation in the desert, protecting them from all forms of dangers and threats. As the young nation wandered the perilous unknown, G-d lovingly embraced them, guarding them from all sides to ensure their safety and security. When we sit in the Succah each year to commemorate that protection, we are meant to feel that embrace as well in our own lives- to remember that ultimately our lives are dependent upon Hashem alone, and that His love for us is the basis of all that we have and all that we are able to accomplish. Along the same lines, the Bnei Yisaschar and others suggest that when we sit in the Succah, we are sitting in the “shadow of Hashem”. In the Succah, we are meant to feel enveloped and surrounded by the love and warmth of G-d, and to bask in that warmth. Interestingly enough, a person fulfills the mitzvah of Succah simply by being there- he is not obligated to do any specific action when in the Succah. Just being in the Succah itself is the mitzvah, as we cherish being surrounded by G-d’s love and protection.
With this in mind, we can understand why Succot immediately follows Yom Kippur. As we emerge from the Aseret Yemei Teshuva spiritually recharged, a new person reborn, we begin to once again encounter the world in front of us. Yet before we confront the world head on, we go through a period of incubation- we spend 7 days in our Succah, basking in the loving embrace G-d. We celebrate our relationship with Him, and the opportunities that such a relationship affords us. Once that foundation of love has been ensconced in our relationship with Hashem, it becomes the framework through which we experience and relate to G-d throughout the rest of the year. With that foundation and framework in place, we are now ready to confront the world, and all that it entails, head on.
Perhaps our most important job as parents is to give our children a foundation of love in their lives. From the day they are born and throughout their entire lives, our children need to feel that no matter what happens in the world around them, their parents love them profoundly and care for them deeply.
Rav Wolbe, in his Sefer Zeria U’binyan B’Chinuch, quotes a fascinating finding by a famous biologist who compared the capabilities of human babies to babies in the animal kingdom. Notably, animal babies have much greater abilities after birth than human babies- many begin walk shortly after birth, and even become relatively independent very quickly. In contrast, human babies do very little for the 9-12 months. It is only at around one year that a human baby has the same capabilities of most animals at birth. Based on this observation, this biologist posited that in reality, human babies need another 9 months of incubation in the mother’s womb-but that in place of that, each baby experiences a second incubation period, this time outside of the mother’s womb. Following a child’s birth, the baby lives and exists within the “cradle of the home”, surrounded by the love and warmth of its parents and family. It is during these initial months, as the infant lives within the loving embrace of his parents, that a deep foundation of love and belonging is instilled within the child- and it is this love that sets the framework for the rest of the child’s life. As Rav Wolbe states, “every child needs to feel the warmth of the home, and warmth means love. Lots of love. A child must grow up specifically within the context of love”.
In the world of psychology, a popular theory on relationships is the attachment theory, developed initially by Bowlsby and Ainsworth- which suggests that all humans have a natural need for attachment and connectedness, for an emotional bond with another human being. Some theorists take it a step further and posit that based on the relationship that a baby has with his primary caregivers, he develops certain styles of attachment- and those attachment styles tend to impact the cognitive and emotional development of the child, and his ability to develop connects throughout his life. When a healthy sense of attachment is properly attained as an infant, that can lay the groundwork for a healthy sense of self and connection to others as they get older.
While the initial sense of love is developed during the early stages of an infants development, that initial love must set the foundation and initial framework for a loving parent-child relationship that continues to exist at all ages. The home must be a place of profound comfort and warmth that the child feels each time the child he into the house, even if only subconsciously. Each time we speak to, or interact with, our kids, the undertones of that encounter must be the never-ending affection that we have for them. While our relationship with our kids will differ dramatically depending on their age- with some ages creating more challenges than others- our overarching goal must be to make sure that our love for our kids is always the basis of that relationship, and that our kids sense that deeply.
There can be moments of great disagreement and perhaps intense friction, but if love is the basis for the relationship, hopefully those moments of friction can ultimately be overcome. In addition, if we are successful at making the home environment one of unconditioned and unending love, then we provide our kids with a base from which to tackle the challenges of a scary and sometimes unkind world around them. No matter what happens to them outside the home, they always know that they have a place of warmth and acceptance to come back to. I have heard on many occasions from Dr. David Pelcovitz that the two most important ingredients to parenting are “love and limits”- giving our children a foundation of love while also expressing our care of them in setting rules and limits for what we expect of them.
Thankfully, most parents don’t need to be told to love their children- the feeling comes naturally. However, the challenge is in making sure to convey that love to our children in a deep and real way. We should make sure to verbally express our love for them consistently and often. One can never say “I love you” too often to a child. Even if our verbal expressions of love are met with a “face” by our teenagers, that love nevertheless penetrates deep down. And of course, words alone are not enough. We need to show our children through our actions how much we care about them and adore them. Children, of all ages, are very astute and clever- they can easily tell the difference between fake love and real love. If we put real time and effort into conveying our genuine love for our children at all stages of life, then they will sense it and feel it profoundly.
The story is told about the Baal Shem Tov that a father came to him to ask for guidance and a brother in dealing with his son who was no longer Torah observant. Distraught, the father asked the Baal Shem Tov how he should deal with his son- to which the Baal Shem Tov replied, “the best thing way for you to deal with your son is to love him even more”.
The proximity of Succot to Yom Kippur is by specific design. As we exit the lofty Yamim Noraim a new person, reborn free of sin, we immediately enter our Succah, which acts as an incubator in showering us with the love and warmth of G-d, laying the foundation for our ability to re-enter the world and confront it head on. As parents as well, we must ensure that the basis for our relationship with our kids is one of deep love and affection- through both verbal and nonverbal cues on a consistent basis. It is that love that, come what may, will lay the groundwork for a deep and meaningful relationship with our children throughout their lives.