The primary Mitzvah of Sukkot is, simply, to live inside a Sukkah for a week to eat all our meals there, to even sleep there, weather permitting, to entertain guest there and, of course, to study Torah and also, perhaps, to sign and make music, within it’s holy space.
We also commanded, separately, simply to be happy. V’samachta b’Chagecha, and you will rejoice in your festival.
This year (along with last year) marks the only two in more than forty years that I’ve not had my own Sukkah and I admit it feels strange. Of course, I can fulfill the technical requirements of eating certain food categories in the many sukkot erected by neighborhood restaurants, by welcoming neighbors, schools and synagogues and others. I’m well aware, certainly, that this is one of many “side benefits” of living in Jerusalem.
Nonetheless, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking, both this year and last, of the connection between Sukkah and Simcha (happiness). Does the/a path to happiness necessarily travel through a Sukkah? What, of course, of the rest of the year? Does reducing the time spent in the Sukkah reduce one’s joy? Is happiness open to me at all during this week?
The fact is, however, that I’ve often found myself bursting with joy this past week, and for no real reason I can put my finger on. I’ve made no new special friends, gathered no new possessions, no new toys at all. I haven’t completed any great achievements strictly within these few specified days. I’ve probably had about my usual share of grumbles this week, certainly enough transportation and busing aggravations, but I still think if one could add up the minutes, you’d find my “smile time” significantly elevated. What could possibly be happening?
One thing, of course, is that living in Israel, living in Jerusalem, I’m surrounded by fellow Jews. But that’s no different the week of Sukkot than any other week. Of course, I’m literally surrounded by Sukkot this week, although that doesn’t mean that I’m continuously within a Sukkah, but, rather, that everywhere I look, literally, I see s Sukkah.
The Gemara, and I’m never sure of my exact references, just that I’ve “seen” it somewhere in my studies, in this case probably in Gemara Sukkot”, discusses the minimum size for a Sukkah to be kosher and says that it needs to be big enough for an average person to put his head and shoulders and part of his upper body into. It then brings us one of the most beautiful images I know within our tradition. We’re invited to imagine the entire Jewish people standing single-file in line, each one taking a turn to put his head and shoulders into this tiniest of kosher Sukkot, eating something (probably especially tasty) and saying a bracha of thanks. One-by-one, this theoretical Sukkah will contain all of Am Yisrael, the entirely of the Jewish People, each of us in a heightened awareness of The Creator.
And, perhaps, that is just the magic of a Sukkah, that each Sukkah becomes this ideal Sukkah, that every time we enter a Sukkah we surround ourselves with the entirely of the Jewish People, that every time we see a Sukkah, we see every Jew throughout our history, in all our beautiful individuality and diversity, each contributing what only we can contribute to the ultimate wholeness and integrity of God’s Created and our perfected, universe.
I can’t think of anything more joyous.
Shabbat Shalom and Moadim l’Simcha!