“Happy Sukkot” sounds a bit funny, but it’s actually more accurate to express this wish than “Happy Chanukah,” which, of course, sounds perfectly normal. That’s because Sukkot is called Zman Simchatenu (“the Time of our Joy.”) The reasons for this deep, spiritual joy are many, but to me the most significant is that we have just come through a long season of introspection, topped by the Ten Days of Repentance, culminating in Yom Kippur. And we are certain that G-d has accepted our sincere resolutions to improve, and granted us a new year of wonderful, bountiful, beautiful life. If that’s not something to be ecstatic about, what is?
Something else that sounds alien, at least to my ear, is the common appellation for this holiday as the “Feast of Tabernacles.” What’s a tabernacle, anyway? I know, I know, if you Google it, you’ll find that the first Tabernacle was that portable Holy Temple the Israelites had in the desert when they left Egypt, what we call in Hebrew the Mishkan. I’m not sure how that morphed into a feast of (numerous) “tabernacles.”
My guess is that it’s referring to the sukkot – the temporary dwellings the Israelites lived in during that 40-year journey. Those huts were portable, like their Mishkan -- the Tabernacle, so the holiday is known by that name. Moreover, we live in temporary housing during the week-long holiday too.
So why celebrate living in a flimsy shack? The concept is that despite their vulnerability out there in the desert, the Israelites couldn’t care less about exposure to hot sun, bad weather, snakes, scorpions, or militant enemies. After their intense repentance for the sin of the Golden Calf, G-d forgave them on Yom Kippur. Before the sin, they had been protected by a supernatural cloud covering, which was removed when the Golden Calf was hailed as their new god. After they were forgiven, those special clouds returned – on the days of Sukkot – assuring them that they were once again under Heavenly protection. So I ask again – isn’t that a reason for joy?
Every Sukkot, we reconstruct that miracle, so to speak, demonstrating our faith that G-d will protect us too; that we don’t need physical shields when we have Him on our side. Ok, so it rains sometimes, and we have to go indoors – funny how we still feel secure that we are enveloped in His love, even if we don’t merit the totally perfect protection granted to our ancestors.
And it’s fun too. The sukkah is a magical place for children, as well as adults. No matter what’s going on outside, we feel warm and happy in that luminous little place. The decorations sparkle, but not as much as the sparkle in our eyes.
And the food … ah, the food is special in every way. It’s customary to eat stuffed foods, until we too are stuffed, and stagger away from the table happily anticipating the next meal. For some terrific ideas on what to serve, take a look at the recipes below that I’ve prepared for you!
Wishing you and your loved ones a Chag Sameach, a truly Happy Sukkot, as your own little holy tabernacle fills up with family, guests … and of course, great food.