We've reached the last of the appointed times of the seventh month - Sukkot, the Festival of Booths.
This joyous festival is the culmination of the all-important teshuvah (repentance) process that began at the start of the month on Rosh Hashanah (Yom Teruah).
Rosh Hashanah was our day of judgment, the day the Creator and Sovereign over all judged the earth and passed sentence on every person - some to life, some to death, some to good life, and some to hardship.
Then, we had ten days to appeal for a favorable judgment. We did teshuvah and came to Yom Kippur to humbly beg for forgiveness, pardon, and atonement, to plead for another year of life and a good life.
Because we observed Yom Kippur as commanded, we trust in the compassion of YAHUAH and believe that we are forgiven.
Now, at Sukkot, we rejoice in the fact that YAHUAH has forgiven us and blessed us with another year of life and a good life.
Season of Joy
Sukkot is zman simchateinu - the season of our joy. We are actually commanded to rejoice for seven days:
Deb/Deut. 16:13-14 - “Perform the Festival of Booths for seven days after the ingathering from your threshing-floor and from your winepress,
(14) and you shall rejoice in your festival, you and your son and your daughter, and your male servant and your female servant, and the Lĕwite, and the stranger and the fatherless and the widow who are within your gates.
(15) “For seven days you shall observe a festival to יהוה your Elohim in the place which יהוה chooses, because יהוה your Elohim does bless you in all your increase and in all the work of your hands, and you shall be only rejoicing!”
This week, all over the world, people are having everything from cozy two-person dinners to small family and friend get-togethers to huge mega parties in their sukkahs. What a joy to participate in a set-apart observance the Almighty commanded in His Torah rather than the pagan rituals that surround us!
YAHUAH wants us to be happy! He wants us to enjoy the life He has given us. He wants us to celebrate at His season of joy, and He wants to do it where?
In a hut!
We rejoice and give thanks to YAHUAH inside a sukkah, which is basically nothing more than a thatched-roof hut.
How does that make sense? We celebrate and rejoice in one of the shabbiest dwellings you can think of. Why do we thank YAHUAH for the blessing of a good and prosperous year inside a poor man’s dwelling?
It’s so paradoxical that there’s gotta be some kind of lesson in that.
And of course, there is…
After we’ve been judged, pardoned, and undeservedly blessed with life, YAHUAH then gives us a festival to not only rejoice in the fact that our life has been spared but also to teach and remind us how to live that life.
Our Source of True Joy
We rejoice in a hut to remind us that our joy does not come from physical, material matters. Our happiness doesn’t lie in what size house we own, how nice our furniture is, what kind of neighborhood we live in, how fancy our car is, or how expensive our new gadget is.
These material items do not give us joy.
If they did, then rich people would never suffer from depression, and every poor person on earth would need antidepressants.
But we know that's not how it is. There are rich people who do struggle with depression, and among the poor, you can find some of the happiest people you'll ever meet.
Material possessions do not bring true joy.
That’s the message of Qohelet (Ecclesiastes), which we read during Sukkot.
Qoh/Eccl. 1:2 “Futility! Futility!” says Qoheleth. “Futility, futility, all is futile!”
Shelomoh, who was the epitome of wealth, says that no physical matter under the sun has true value or meaning. None of it is permanent; therefore, it's futile to put our trust in them.
Just ask the victims of Hurricane Florence, Harvey, Maria, or any other natural disaster; ask those who survived car accidents or house fires; ask victims of theft and burglary; ask anyone who's ever lost a job - just how easily material possessions can be lost.
Placing our trust in material possessions is vanity - pointless.
That’s why we celebrate Sukkot in a sukkah.
Everyone - rich and poor alike - are commanded to dwell in a sukkah for seven days. The rich are reminded that their wealth is not their source of joy and security, and the poor are also reminded that money and possessions are not the source of happiness and peace of mind.
When we rejoice in a sukkah, clearly, our happiness is not stemming from the physical structure we’re sitting in. Clearly, we're not rejoicing in wealth or in any sort of material possessions.
Our only source of true joy is YAHUAH.
Qoh/Eccl. 2:25 - “For who eats or who finds enjoyment without Him?”
Joy in His Presence
The sukkah not only represents the temporary dwelling that the children of Yisrael lived in during their wilderness journey, but it also represents the Mishkan, the Tabernacle in the wilderness.
When Yisrael sinned with the golden calf, Moshe interceded on their behalf, and on Yom Kippur, YAHUAH forgave them. Immediately afterward, they began constructing the Mishkan, the Dwelling Place of Elohim (Shem/Ex. 32-35).
The clouds of esteem returned to cover and protect them, and when the construction was complete, the Presence of YAHUAH dwelt among them.
After we’re forgiven on Yom Kippur, we begin constructing our sukkah to show that we invite YAHUAH to dwell with us. During the seven days of the Festival, we rejoice in our forgiveness and in His Presence.
YAHUAH is our only true source of joy. It is in His Presence where we feel the greatest joy and the greatest security.
When we sit in the sukkah, we remember that even if our circumstances are as unstable and uncertain as a shaky sukkah, even if the pieces of our life are barely holding together, and even if by the looks of it our life is shabby at best, YAHUAH is still with us. This, we can rejoice in.
Take comfort in His Presence.
Be at peace in His Presence.
Have joy in His Presence.
You won’t find it anywhere else under the sun.