Sukkos: A Look Back
Now that we’re in a different month, I feel that I can take an objective look at what I did or did not like about Sukkos this year. Like everyone else, I obviously loved having 3 days of yontif twice in ten days, and it didn’t tire me out in the least. I truly enjoyed long meals outside, what with the beautifully warm and dry Toronto weather, overly spacious seating arrangements, and a great opportunity to train for that beekeeping job I’ve been after. I can’t think of a single time that I hoped it would rain, or patiently waited until it did, so that I wouldn’t be halachically obligated to eat outside.
I was almost afraid after Yom Kippur that long davenings would be over, but Sukkos was there to fill my needs with Hallel, Hoshanos, leining and Mussaf every single day, some days even longer than others! Everyone I know enjoyed bringing their lulav and esrog to shul, and had no issues with costs with the prices needed to be paid to fellow Jews for mandatory mitzvos. Then again, there aren’t very many times a year when a regular Jewish guy can take advantage of that. Even after it’s all done, I get to remember it some more as I take down my sukkah that I built a little over a week before. Now that you mention it, I can’t think of anything that I didn’t like about Sukkos this year.
On a more serious note, I actually do find Sukkos enjoyable (mostly). Disconnecting from the outside world (i.e. my computer and phone), especially for a higher purpose, can be quite calming, and spending time with the family screaming at bees in the Sukkah IS actually a lot of fun. Shaking my lulav along with everyone else is as inspiring as you want it to be, and if I get bored, I find that the best shmoozes actually take place in shul when you’re not supposed to be talking (I don’t understand the psychology of it, though I do take advantage). That said, I do think that my perception of Sukkos is somewhat lessened based on where it’s located on the calendar. All of Elul, I listen to shofar sounds and speeches that drive me towards doing teshuva and self-betterment. I know exactly what where I am headed, and that is towards Rosh Hashanah, culminating soon afterwards on the holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur. If anything, I should still feel “spiritually high” for the following weeks, and the preparations of building my sukkah and buying my lulav/esrog should get me even more pumped for more holy days.
Unfortunately, growing up attending Jewish schools, I saw Sukkos just a little bit differently than that. Sukkos was vacation. Easily one of the best parts of being frum, is the long break just as the fall semester begins (especially those precious years when Chol Hamoed falls out on only weekdays). However, that didn’t exactly infuse me with spiritual aspects of how I should feel towards it. In fact, all of those stimulating talks from rebbeim for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur about how I was about to be judged, turned into ”now don’t ruin it since you’re not under our watch for a couple of weeks.”
Pesach, while having obvious similarities, is at its own time of the year, and in my personal experience has me in a special mindset due to the themes of being chosen as a nation, and of course its dietary restrictions. Sukkos is a time when I talk about the actions being done on those days, from the waving to the eating in the Sukkah, but not about what allows me to justify mentally why I need to spend 6 out of 10 days with a rule-bound and tiring schedule. One might argue that I’m being too hard on Sukkos for the past couple of years (and a couple more in the near future) for the “3 day yontifs” that it brings us. However, I actually found Pesach this past year, with its 7th day starting on Sunday night to be a “4day yontif,” and somewhat more difficult.
My conclusion is that like everything in Judaism, and even life in general, if you work towards something, it carries more meaning. The more you work towards caring about Sukkos, the more rewarding it is. Not only in terms of physical work, like building the Sukkah, but specifically getting yourself into the proper frame of mind in the few days before, by thinking about what it means to you, why you’re doing it, and understanding what you are accomplishing. One thing that I decided not to focus on in this article was the topic of Simchas Torah, and how it should be spiritually uplifting, but unfortunately is sullied by those who lose sight of what the day represents, and instead focus on the public drinking aspect. This, too, is based on the same issue of not internalizing your role in Judaism, leaving its special days devoid of meaning. Maybe I’ll write more on that next year, after I’ve finished having my own personal fulfillment of the entire month of Tishrei, second half included.