Mystical Succot Experience


Mystical Succot Experience


Search our Archives:

» Home
» History
» Holidays
» Humor
» Places
» Thought
» Opinion & Society
» Writings
» Customs
» Misc.

The Lights of the Succah

by Yechezkel Gold

"And the Harvest Festival at the turn of the year" (Exodus 34) is commonly called Sukkoth, the Festival of Booths. Closely following Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, the Days of Awe and Judgment, Sukkoth is also known as "the Time of our Rejoicing".

Year after year follows the same pattern, yet each year is a spiritual harvest of something wondrous, joyous and new. As I enter my sixth decade, I find myself amazed that the cycle of annual holidays continues to bring increased spiritual delight, vigor, fascination and insight. As I bring more thought to them each year, as my learning and life experience accumulate, the holidays bestow disproportionately more upon me.

The Book of Ecclesiastes, traditionally read on the Sabbath of Succoth, exclaims: "all channels lead to the sea, and the sea is not full!"

Who would think that merely sitting in the Succah could be such an experience! Even in Jerusalem, balmy at this time of year, the Succah does not quite deceive us. Sitting at table ensconced within the four walls and beneath the canopy of the schach, our eyes tell us that we are indoors. Our other senses, though, tell us otherwise. We are - almost - outdoors! In America or Europe the cold nip in the air is often unmistakable. The resulting confusion finally resolves into integration of indoors and out. You and I are in the Succah!

Spiritually too, the Succah integrates the mystical realms with physical reality. Like the Holy Temple which joined spiritual and material, so that even physical materials became holy, the Succah brings inside and outside together. In fact, the Holy Temple was called the Succah of David. This harmony among all dimensions of reality is achieved after the atonement of Yom Kippur.

Just sitting in the Succah in the right frame of mind brings these mellow spiritual harmonies. It is so simple, it seems unearned and almost unreal. We wonder that it should be so.

This wonder and the sense of freely bestowed, unearned tranquillity sitting in the Succah are part of the Succah experience, too. The Succah embraces us, as Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, who lived some two hundred years ago, taught. The halachically mandated two full walls are like the arm’s two larger members. With the third wall a minimum of one hand’s breadth in length, the Succah is like a hand embracing us. God values our merits, but more fundamentally, He loves us and gives us a “hug” just for ourselves. The sages taught that we enter Succoth with the conviction that God has forgiven us our faults and errors. Though by right we can not reverse the past, God overlooked our transgressions and gave his full atonement, only because He loves us. We need only sit in the Succah to receive his embrace.

Accepting that God loves us for our very selves truly touches the heart, especially as we wonder and feel His love is unearned. This love means that we can change our focus to a higher, gladder reality. Sukkoth is the Time of our Rejoicing.

The Succah brings us a higher, happier state. The entire Divine plan surrounds us from all sides, centering benevolently on His people. It is a frame of mind in which our thoughts and actions and all the events of our lives and our people are imbued with deeper, eternal significance. History, personal as well as national, is regarded through a new and spiritual scrim.

Getting to this frame of mind means leaving our accustomed tense over-involvement in personal affairs that block our seeing the exquisite, sublime Divine light and its reflection in our life stories. It means attaining greater openness and objectively to view our lives and their events in a more spiritual, less self-centered perspective. We leave our homes and take up residence in the freshness under the schach and within the tranquillity of the Succah which enable us to see ourselves in a new light.

The Succah is a holy, sublime world. Sitting in a physical Succah is the first step in integrating the mystical realms with our material world. But we must also get there in our minds. We must learn to make the connections between supernal reality and the events of this world. Generally, these connections are called Torah. Torah is God’s plan for the world, revealing the Divine Light in the things and events of the mundane realm. But Torah, too, needs manifest connection to God and to the world. Otherwise, it might seem like only a profound, intricate rulebook. How do we make those connections? How do we see God in Torah and how does that lead us to see God in our lives?

The Sh'ma Yisroel, the six word verse expressing our supreme faith, encapsulates the three-stage process. Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi taught that the six words divide into three groupings. The first two words, Sh'ma Yisroel, "Hear, O Israel!" directly address us and bring encounter with the Divine. This overwhelms us, bringing us entirely out of ourselves.

The next two words translate as "Hashem (the Name of God) is our God". When we say "our God" we have come back to ourselves somewhat. "Our God" means how we, our souls, perceive God. These are our deepest and most refined hopes and ideals. It means God as He can be manifest in our lives. This fervent hope and ideal is the essence of Torah.

The third stage corresponds to actualizing the ideal. "God is one" means rendering the God of our souls the God of the world, as Rashi comments on this verse.

The first stage corresponds to the high holy days, the Days of Awe and Judgment that take us entirely out of ourselves. The second stage corresponds to Sukkoth which like Torah integrates sublime encounter with the Divine with engagement in the practical world. Sh'mini Atzeret - Simchat Torah corresponds to the third stage, really living the Torah reality.

How does direct encounter with the Divine become integrated with Torah? How do we connect overwhelming, inspiring mystical experience with Torah’s rules and rituals? The morning blessing recited before saying of the Sh'ma provides an answer. We say there: "... for the sake of our fathers who confidently trusted You and to whom You taught the rules of life to act according to Your will wholeheartedly, so favor us and teach us." Our fathers confidently trusted God, and He taught them the dictates of life, Torah. To glimpse the truth of Torah one must confidently trust in God.

To become entirely engrossed in the encounter with God and disengage from over involvement in practical matters requires great confidence and trust to overcome our excessive fear of this world. Too often, we find ourselves glancing at our watches during prayer and worrying about our obligations as we study Torah. We do not trust God enough to become entirely absorbed.

When we do trust Him quite fully, atonement and equanimity result. From this tranquil, open objectivity and confident trust in God emerge the soul's true ideals: Torah, readiness to approach life integrated with spirituality and ethics.

This blissful state is the world of Torah. Poring intently into its concepts to discover their inner truth and contemplating its depths, the individual enters a glad realm of exquisite beauty, inspiring, awesome heights and profound sweetness.

The faint hearted might remonstrate that this realm scarcely intersects with reality as they know it. Though they may even have glimpsed tranquil, confident trust in God, they can not integrate it with practicality. Actually, Torah itself brings these two realms together as a harmonious whole. The problem is to internalize the Torah perspective so it doesn't contradict one's inner sense of reality.

Another of God's commandments related to Sukkoth addresses this problem. We take four plant species and wave them in all six directions, commencing from touching them to the chest at the heart, extending them outward and then bringing back to the heart. These four species are the lulav (palm branch), citron, myrtle branch and willow branch, and are collectively known as the lulav after the largest and most prominent among them. Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi considers waving the lulav in the Succah the choicest way to fulfil this commandment.

The Midrash tells us that these four species symbolize four primary human limbs. Lulav represents the spine, citron the heart, myrtle leaves the eyes and willow leaves the lips. Accordingly, waving the lulav means taking a symbolic man and extending him to each dimension of our life.

Why do we wave a symbolic man if we are human ourselves? The answer is that these four species represent the ideal human which we can become, the human fully integrating the soul's inspiring encounter with the Divine with practicality. This ideal human, buried in our hearts, can emerge and be extended to each dimension of our life. As well, this ideal human can be internalized and become our true selves.

We wave the lulav in the Succah so the Divine light and love embracing us comes into our heart. When it does, living according to Torah seems a privilege and becomes a personally chosen must, replacing the feeling of impracticality and reluctant obligation we had earlier.

Internalizing the light of the Succah is compared to eating. Indeed, we recite the benediction for the commandment of Succah only when we set ourselves to eat (bread or some dish made from the five grains.) Analogously, the mystical sources inform us that the soul's food is Torah. By dealing trustingly, openly and attentively with the realm of Torah, Succah and lulav, we make it part of us.

Succoth lasts but seven days. We immerse ourselves in this lofty, exclusive reality for a week at the beginning of the year, and afterwards we leave the Succah and re-enter the realm of practicality, internally transformed. The verse in Psalms (90) asks God: " Satiate us in the morning with Your kindness and we will praise and rejoice throughout all our days." The word yom usually denotes a day but in scripture often denotes a year. Succoth is in the morning of the year. If we satiate ourselves with the love and kindness of the Divine embrace in the Succah, the transformation will last during the whole year.

This light is part of the harvest of meaning and spirituality choice gathered this year by the Succah. What will next year's harvest be like?


from the September 2002 Edition of the Jewish Magazine




The Jewish Magazine is the place for Israel and Jewish interest articles
The Current Monthly Jewish Magazine
To the Current Index Page
Write to us!
Write Us
The Total & Complete Gigantic Archive Pages for all issues
To the Big Archives Index Page