“Radiant is the world soul,
Full of splendor and beauty,
Full of life,
Of souls hidden,
Of treasures of the holy spirit,
Of fountains of strength,
Of greatness and beauty.”
-Rav Kook TZ’L (Orot HaKodesh 2:247)
The new beginning of Rosh HaShana and the cleansing of Yom Kippur brings us to the joy of Succot. We are now invited to step out of our private perspectives and celebrate the great miracle and gift of life.
Rabbi David Cohen TZ”L -Rav Kook’s main student-in his masterpiece ‘Kol HaNevua-The Voice of Prophecy’ explains that Succot is חג החיים-the Festival of Life.
He points out חיים and לולב-palm frond have the same numerical value- 68. The lulav is waved three times in the six directions for a total of 18 wavings. The numerical value of חי-life is of course 18. If any of the four species are dry or lifeless, they can not be used.
The life process of constant renewal is a great gift of our creation. Rav Kook appreciated it deeply:
“Succa is a very high level of joy…Joy emerges from renewal and the renewal of the succa is constant, therefore it is the ‘season of our joy’.” (Rav Kook, Notebook 2:212)
“The perception that dawns on a person to see the world, not as finished, but in the process of continued becoming, ascending, developing-this changes one from being ‘under the sun’ to being ‘above the sun’, from the place where there is nothing new to the place where there is nothing old, where everything takes on new form. The joy of heaven and earth abide in them as on the day they were created.” (Orot HaKodesh 2:535)
The physical experience of the succa and the four species offers us the opportunity to experience and celebrate the fusion of heaven and earth. The Succot prayers. songs and celebrations direct us to the larger creation. Our Succa is not blocked off from the world. Everyone is invited to our Succa and we are invited to everyone else’s.
For a week we live outside of our normal private boundaries and join together with all life.
Rav Kook explains that this is very important for us to be able to do if we wish to truly grow. (I am translating this in the first person though it was written in the third.)
“We must liberate ourselves from confinement within our private concerns. This pervades our whole being so that all our thoughts focus only on our own destiny. This reduces us to the worst kind of smallness and brings upon us endless physical and spiritual distress. It is necessary to raise our thought, will and our basic preoccupations toward universality, to the inclusion of all, to the whole world, to humankind, to the Jewish people, to all existence. This will result in establishing even our private self on a proper basis.
The firmer our vision of universality, the greater the joy we will experience and the more we merit the grace of divine illumination…
The call to be committed always to the principle of universality, to the divine ensemble, where all things have their being, is the essence of the soul of the ‘tzaddikim-righteous’ who walk before God and whose delight is in the Creator.” (Ibid 3:147)
When we are able to experience life with this perspective our every moment is enriched with meaning and significance. Succot is a tremendous reminder of the precious and wondrous gift of life that we are experiencing.
Rav Kook of course said it much more beautifully:
“The realm of mystery tells us- ‘You live in a world full of light and life.
Let us know this great reality, the richness of existence that we always encounter.
Let us contemplate its grandeur, its beauty, its precision and harmony…
In every corner where we turn, we are dealing with realities that have life; we always perform consequential acts, abounding with meaning and with the preciousness of vibrant life.
In everything we do we meet sparks full of life and light, aspiring toward the heights. We help them and they help us…
And everything aspires, longs, yearns, according to a pattern that is adorned with holiness and girded with beauty. For this life of ours is not a meaningless phenomenon.
With the light of Your own presence, You have gifted us, HaShem Elokeynu, with תורת חיים-The Torah of Life.” (Ibid, 2:343)
חג חיים שמח-A Joyous Festival of Life to all.