One of the deepest reasons we celebrate the first two days of Sukkot as Chag (a “full” holiday complete with special davening, Kiddush before meals, and also with accompanying restrictions) outside of Israel is because without the energy boost provided by the Land itself, we need to augment our efforts to process גבורה/דין, Gevurah/Din, Power/Judgement, with the extra holiness of Chag. If you’d like some background to this statement, please continue reading.
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Sukkot, just like Pesach and Shavuot, doubles down on “Chag” days outside of Israel (where, following the Torah mandate, these holidays only last a single day).
The most common reason given for this curious division between the Holy Land and communities in Galut, exile, is based on historical/technological limitations publicizing the exact date that New Moons were observed and announced, determining both Rosh Chodesh, the first day of each new (lunar) month and, subsequently, the proper date for each festival. The common explanation goes that in order to cover possible doubts due to the extended time to get the word out to far-flung communities, our sages decreed two days of Yom Tov outside of Israel, where only one day was observed. Even though we’ve based our calendar on precise mathematical calculations rather than lunar observation for millennia, eliminating all doubt as to which day “really is” Rosh Chodesh, we’ve still retained the two-day Chag status.
I was taught that when חז”ל, Chazal, (literally Chachamim Zichronam L‘Bracha, Wise Ones, may their memory be a blessing), our Talmudic sages who are considered the most authoritative experts in our tradition, give a reason for a decree, there are many other reasons, often deeper and more profound, which they kept to themselves. Among the best known is that this is literally a fine, a punishment for neglecting the Mitzva, commandment, to live in the Land of Israel. A little less harsh, but to the same point, is that it takes us twice as much time to process/create the “amount” of קדושה, Kedusha, holiness, outside of Israel than it does within. In other words, the very essence of ארץ ישראל, Eretz Yisrael, provides “turbo-charged” energy for our spiritual efforts.
The seven days of Sukkot are associated with the seven Sefirot, each day, in turn, featuring and focusing on one of them. The second day of Sukkot, therefore, is most strongly colored by גבורה/דין, Gevurah/Din, Strength/Justice, the inflexible structure-nature of reality, the mode in which every action, almost mechanically, generates a specific (and “logical”) consequence. Gevurah is associated restriction, punishment, no-wiggle-room and is, as such, much more challenging to come to terms with.
In fact, we’re taught, allegorically, that God originally “intended” to create the universe using only strict logic and rules, but He “foresaw” that the world (especially that aspect which concerns us humans) would not be able to survive such a reality. Therefore, he mixed in a strong measure of חסד, Chesed, love and forgiveness, flexibility and understanding, in order to allow the universe to persist, in spite of the non-stop damage we seem intent to inflict on reality. (Although if the world were based solely on Chesed, with no restraints (i.e. no structure or organization at all), it would quickly descend into chaos (entropy in terms of physics)–While we tend to favor Chesed as “good”, Gevurah is absolutely necessary to provide structure for reality.)
Gevurah is very difficult for us. It scares us (part of its value is its deterrence potential), confuses us and often seems “too hot to handle”. Sukkot, coming on the heels of our optimized spiritual stature from Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, empowers us to process and mold all seven Sefirot, maximizing them for the new year. Chesed, pure energy, is by definition overpowering and we are able to harness the energy of Chag to process. In Eretz Yisrael, everything we do is always augmented by the special holy energy of the Land. This is, in general, sufficient, once Chesed has been processed, to handle Gevurah and the others. Crippled, outside of Eretz Yisrael, we just lack the power for this challenge. Thus, we’re granted that extra boost of Kedusha, holiness of a second day of Chag.