What are We Celebrating on Sukkos?

Pesach, Sukkos, and Shavuos. Pesach is when G-d took the Jews out of Mitzrayim. Shavuos is when G-d gave the Jews the Torah. But what exactly is Sukkos? Living in booths? Being protected by the Ananei haKavod? Yes, we are celebrating both, the physical and the spiritual. And… We are celebrating the process. Pesach is the start, Shavuos is the finish, and Sukkos is everything in between.

With Pesach and Shavuos, there is drama, inspiration. With starts and finishes, there is drama, inspiration. The day that you announce that you’re going to run a marathon is exciting and memorable. The day that you cross this marathon’s finish line is exciting and memorable. But what about all the days in between? The training, the emotional ups and downs that are inevitable as you work towards your goal. The days, the nights, the eating, the sleeping, the seeming mundanity that sits between the start and the finish. A mundanity that is not only critical to moving from the start to the finish but a mundanity that is the essence of what you’re going to accomplish. For a marathoner with a healthy mindset, the means is the ends. If a marathoner is training with little appreciation for or enjoyment from his training, he will struggle to make it to the finish line. For sure he will struggle to run a second marathon. The process, the means is critical.

The same is true for a Jew. Pesach until Shavuos, both then and now, both literally and figuratively, is a test of one’s ability to overcome difficulties and discomforts. In the Jewish calendar, the furthest date from Pesach (Nissan 15) is Sukkos (Tishrei 15). Sukkos is the furthest date from the inspiration of Pesach. On the Seventh Day of Pesach, the Jews step into the Yam Suf and start the work necessary to separate themselves from Mitzrayim and to move closer to Har Sinai. As Rabbi Yehuda Leib Graubart zzl speaks to when discussing the Jews stepping into the Yam Suf, for a Jew, the ikur of life is taking action, is doing, is work. Sukkos is a continuation of this lesson from the Yam Suf. Pesach is the start, Shavuos is the finish (before we start again), and Sukkos is the process, the means, the work. The sukkah, where we’re going to live for the coming week, where we will eat, drink, learn, and sleep, is a reminder that Sukkos is about actions, frequently difficult, uncomfortable actions. Difficult uncomfortable actions that are at the core of being a Jew. Work that a Jew not only accepts and embraces, but learns to love. Like the freedom of Pesach and the Torah of Shavuos, the process, the work of Sukkos, though it frequently includes heat, cold, moisture, bees, or otherwise, is a gift. The process, the work of life, though frequently uncomfortable, is a gift.

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