It was Erev Yom Kippur, probably the busiest day of the year for any rabbi. I was in my office, stressed, trying to manage the constant inundation. The phone was ringing non-stop, I was receiving texts and WhatsApps with all kinds of halachic questions, and at the same time I had my own preparations to do. People were calling to ask about fasting. One wanted to know if he could take Tylenol, another called to ask about fasting while pregnant. Others were looking to donate before the holiday began, and I still had my speeches to write, which take many hours of preparation!
And then Gilad* called. “Rabbi,” he said, “I need to meet you.”
“Sure,” I agreed. “How is the week after Sukkot, when I am stress-free and can give you my attention?”
“No, I need to meet you today!” he said.
“Today? Are you kidding?” I thought. “Is it an emergency?” I asked.
“Yes, yes, it is,” he said.
Well, my primary job is helping people, and if someone tells me he needs me urgently I drop everything to help. And if it happens to be one of the busiest days of the year, so be it.
“Sure, come to my office,” I said.
“I’m already here,” he told me, and rang the bell.
We sat down and Gilad began to tell me his story. He served in the IDF and then came to New York, he explained. “Rabbi, I’ve had a really rough year,” he said, crying now. “It’s not easy. I’m in pain, I’m far from my family who are all in Israel. Do you know why I needed to meet you today, urgently? I need a hug.”
Immediately, I got up and gave him a long hug. “Let me also give you a spiritual hug,” I offered, and helped him put on tefillin. I also invited him to join our community for the entire Yom Kippur, which he did. Over the course of the day I made sure to check in with him, hug him, and make sure he truly felt among family. Afterwards he told me he had an incredible experience.
Throughout Yom Kippur, I couldn’t stop thinking about Gilad. I’m so glad he reached out! And I thought to myself: We are all like Gilad. We’ve all had a rough year. A tough 18 months in fact. The world has changed and no one has been unaffected. Don’t we all need a giant hug?!
G-d A-mighty, we are all Gilad. We demand you give us a hug — a warm, massive, tight hug. We don’t care how busy you are.
In fact, this is what the holiday of Sukkot is all about. Our sages explain that the Sukkah is actually G-d’s embrace, and as we sit in it, he is holding us tight, telling us, “I got you.”
A sukkah is considered kosher for use with only two walls, and a third wall the height of a fist. Just like a person who hugs with two arms and a fist, the sukkah is G-d telling us, “No matter what’s going on in the world, don’t worry, I’m with you, I’m holding you, I’ve got you.”
May we all enjoy His embrace this Sukkot.
*Name changed to protect privacy.