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Sukkot: The Power of Joy Amidst Uncertainty

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How Can we Celebrate with Tragedy Around Us?

Praise G-d all you nations, extol Him all you peoples, because His kindness was mighty over us and the truth of G-d is everlasting – Psalms 117 – Sukkot Hallel prayer

What did G-d do for the nations of the world that they are praising Him? They praise Him for all the might and wonders that He did in the world; how much more so do we [the Jewish people] have to praise Him – Talmud, Pesachim 118b

The seventy Sukkot offerings correspond to and protect the seventy nations – Sukkot 55b. Rashi Pinchat 29:35

All seventy nations are subcategories of Esau and Ishmael – Nitzutzei Orot, Zohar III 227b 

The last birur [refinement] before the Geulah is that of kelipat [husk of] Ishmael –
R’ Dovber of Lubavitch, Shaarei Teshuvah II 17a. See Zohar II 32a. Rambam, Iggeret Teiman ch. 3

On Sukkot is the work of refining kelipat Ishmael… which prevents the Geulah –
Sfat Emet, drush l’Sukkot

As we try to regain some composure following the attack of September 11th, we also enter the joyous holiday season of Sukkot. Among all ‘festivals of joy,’ Sukkot is specifically designated as the “time of our joy,” and its celebration is greater than that of other holidays. Song and dance permeate each day of this holiday, growing in intensity with each passing day.

Is there room for joy when we are just beginning to bury our dead? How can we celebrate when we are so uncertain of what the future holds?

The trembling Days of Awe seem appropriate to these difficult times; but joyous Sukkot?!… And just plain joy, a joy that is so great that the Talmud says “one who has not seen Simchat Beit Hashoavah (the celebration accompanying the drawing of water for the altar on Sukkot) has not seen joy in his life”!

Penetrating into the personality of Sukkot gives us deeper insight into the very nature of joy itself.

Joy (simcha) is a revealed expression of the soul’s innate celebration of life. Being aware of your indispensable purpose in life, by being connected to your Divine mission, is true cause for natural celebration. Conversely, lack of this awareness is the root of insecurity, fear, uncertainty, and the inevitable resulting despondency.

The joy of Sukkot is the revelation and celebration of the essential connection with our Divine mission established on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. Chassidic masters tell us that you can accomplish with simcha on Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah that which you can accomplish with tears on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.

Healthy joy is not escape and denial, but the celebration of what makes life worth living.

There is a time to weep and there is a time to celebrate. Just as healthy tears are not mere resignation and fear, but release and catharsis that sow the seeds of growth; so healthy joy is not escape and denial, but the celebration of what makes life worth living, and makes those that tragically died worth remembering. “Those that sow with tears, will reap in joy.”

On Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur we stand in awe before our Maker. We stand stripped naked of our illusionary security blankets. We may even be shaken up and frightened for losing the comforts of our past. But we learn to connect to G-d, to embrace our only true source of security – our purpose in this world. And we learn to instill this higher purpose into our daily lives.

On Sukkot we celebrate this connection. We dance and sing in unadulterated joy. It is not frivolous nor superficial joy. It is not jittery not distracting joy. It is the expression of genuine happiness from the essence of your being. We celebrate not because we are oblivious, but because we know that we will prevail. A joy that at once knows of the tragic realities facing us while embracing the reason to fight on and triumph.

The joy is an expression of our commitment to good, the celebration of hope following loss (the hope that was born on Yom Kippur). As we defiantly take the four species in our hand on Sukkot we declare our victory in the battle of good over evil (See Midrash Rabba Vayikra, 30:2).

Some armies once had a custom to sing a victory song as they went to war. Why? They hadn’t even begun the first battle, how can they sing a victory song? Because they are completely and absolutely confident that they will win. This conviction lifts the morale and infuses the soldiers with the absolute surety of victory. You then fight differently. When you go to war with doubt and apprehension whether you will win, you cannot fight with absolute conviction. Doubt is demoralizing.

Sukkot is this victory song. We march with the four species, armed with our spiritual arsenal – spiritual weapons – resolute to fight any battle, because we have cause to fight.

This message of Sukkot’s victory is universal. We are taught that the Sukkot celebration has a profound effect on the nations of the world. The seventy offerings brought in the Holy Temple on Sukkot – and recreated through our prayers today – corresponds to and protects the seventy nations of the world. Thus our joy and service during Sukkot has cosmic impact on the destiny of the world. The fate of the nations that was determined on Rosh Hashana begins to manifest in the days of Sukkot.

As enter these joyous days, we are given power to transcend our uncertainty, our fears and vulnerabilities. We can access a greater strength that gives us the reason and the power (cause) to celebrate. “The time of our rejoicing” – us together with G-d. We celebrate with G-d our Maker, G-d celebrates with us, His creatures.

We can access a greater strength that gives us the reason and the power (cause) to celebrate.

Joy has some special energy that can help us now, more than ever. Joy has the power to transcend barriers (“simcha poretz geder”). When you dance with joy you break down walls and all forms of limits and constraints.

Joy unites people. Indeed, because joy cannot be celebrated alone, we are obligated to invite guests to our tables on Sukkot. We all sit together in one unifying Sukkah. We bind together the four species – Lulav (Palm branch), Etrog (Citron), Haddasim (Myrtle branches), Arovot (Willow branches) – representing all different personalities, teaching us that our diversity is our strength, it feeds our unity, each of us with our unique contribution to the greater good.

Let us gather together during these upcoming days of Sukkot and celebrate. Celebrate our lives and the gift we have been given today: To be strong and fight for our true beliefs of freedom.

Such gatherings are especially appropriate this Sukkot and throughout the year, being that this year is a Hakhel (gathering) year. [During a Hakhel year in the time of the Holy Temple, men, women and children would gather together on Sukkot to “hear and learn” Torah and stand in “awe of G-d”].

This message of hope, joy and unity is needed now more than ever in the aftermath of September 11th and its shattering effects. It is the ultimate fuel to be able to forge ahead, rebuild and come out even greater.

Let us not forget the great opportunity before us to use this shakeup as a wake up call to reclaim our purpose.

This is the season to ask yourself: What gives me true joy? What blessings do I have in my life? With all this pain and loss around us, with all the uncertainty hanging over us, what is worth celebrating?

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