Sukkoth is the pre-eminently happy Jewish holiday. Why?
Well, just four days prior, we ended Yom Kippur with a feeling of tremendous joy. Most Jews at the end of the Day of Atonement feel very happy. Not that the intense day is over. Even before breaking the fast, we sense this bliss of an important job well done with considerable effort and successfully. We did our part and it feels as if G^d did His.
It seems that Judaism says: don’t just be happy. Give it some form.
It reminds me of the failed attempt to serve G^d which ended up with worshipping a Golden Calf. Says G^d: Nice try but don’t use your own tools – use what I give you. And He gave us the Tabernacle (Temple in the desert) and its appliances. So for this Festival, to clothe our happiness, we also get tools. But how different from a Tent of Meeting.
For the Celebration of Sukkoth, we received as symbol a booth, a non-house. The roof must be from plant material, but it must be cut off, dead. We also get the Four Specious, to … wave. What a non-action!
On the Shabbat of the Festival, we read from the Torah Exodus 33:12-34:26. It starts at the aftermath of the story with the Golden Calf. There G^d “clarifies” to Moses that He will favor whom He’ll show favor and give mercy whom He’ll show mercy, which does not reveal a whole lot about G^d, and that no one alive can see His face though Moses gets to see His back – a non-portray. Yet, we should not serve non-gods. As we said in many ways in whole Hallel (in Psalms 115) how idols are non-powers.
The Prophets’ reading Ezekiel 38:18-39:16 speaks of the two wars of Gog and Magog, which some rabbis hold has happened already: the Six Day War – a non-war – over within a week. Whoever saw such a war?!
That Shabbat we read Ecclesiastes, whose recurring theme is that all of life is futile, amounts to nothing. (But still adds, it pays to live soundly.)
This reminds me of what we say in our last main Prayer on Yom Kippur, that all is futile. A quote from early Morning Prayers that all is in vain.
However. The text doesn’t stop there. Judaism isn’t a nihilistic worldview.
On Yom Kippur, we continue with two counter-arguments: that from the start, G^d has set Man apart from the rest of Creation, and is eager to forgive.
The Daily Morning Prayer says after that all is futile: Yet – we are Your People, We have a covenant and we are offspring of our Patriarchs.
It somehow reminds me of the Mishnah (Avot 2:21): It is not yours to finish the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.
Anyway, so, Sukkoth seems a Feast of Joy but with emptiness to counter over-attachment to comfort, self-importance and false reassurances from the material world. However, it’s followed by Simchat Torah with a main part of it also not celebrated at home – but in the Synagogue – different from the next Festival, of Chanukah, which is all about our homes.
There’re uncertain or unknown things that’ll stay uncertain and unknown. Yet, we have Torah learning with its endless depths that will put justice, meaning and wisdom into our lives and continuously elevate us. But only after first, a happy Nothing Festival cleansed us from over-attachment.