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Sukkot 5784    September 30, 2023 

Rabbi Randall J. Konigsburg

Shabbat Shalom and Hag Sameach

Zeh HaYom Asah H’ Nagila V’Nismecha Bo – This is the Day that God has made; We shall celebrate and Rejoice in it.

This is a verse from the Book of Psalms. It comes toward the end of Hallel. It was also the verse that Michelle and I used on the invitation to our wedding some 46 years ago. We did not have an elaborate invitation. It was just a simple card inviting our friends and family to share the joy of our special day. To this day, this verse reminds us not just of the joy of that day but the joy that we have experienced every day for the past 46 years.

We read that verse this morning, just before our Torah Service. And in the middle of the joy of this holiday, we had an extra moment where we once again celebrated our marriage. It was our personal moment of rejoicing on this holiday where we are commanded to be joyful.

I am very aware that many of us don’t see Sukkot as a holiday full of joy. We have just completed our season of awe. Just a few days ago we once again experienced the awesome moments of Yom Kippur. Many of us are exhausted from the meaningful and holy days that just ended. Now, as we bask in the awesome glow of that extraordinary time, we come across another holiday that seems to be a complete 180 degrees from the Yamim Noraim; the wild rejoicing over the harvest that is in and the last beautiful days before the reality of winter sets in. Many of us are just too tired to celebrate and be joyful on this holiday.

The ancient Rabbis danced their hearts out on the Festival of Sukkot. The Talmud teaches that if one had never seen the Rabbis on Sukkot dancing, then they have never experienced true joy. The Rabbis did handstands, cartwheels, and twirled in circles to celebrate Sukkot. Sins were forgiven, the harvest secure. There was so much joy going around that they added an eighth day to Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret, to stretch the party one more day.

We have to ask why so much joy on Sukkot. We can understand joy on Pesach. On Pesach we celebrate our redemption from slavery. We celebrate the miracles and plagues that God performed to get us out from under the thumb of Pharoah. We didn’t flee in the darkness of night, nor did we sneak away on some underground railroad, we were liberated and walked out of Egypt with our heads high. When the Egyptians changed their minds and came after us, we escaped through the sea and watched our enemy be washed away. That sounds like a reason to celebrate.

We can even understand joy during the Festival of Shavuot. It should not surprise us that there is a festival to mark the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai. The very foundation of Judaism is the Torah and the lessons it has for us on how to live an ethical and meaningful life. That God gave us the Torah is a sign that we are blessed with a direction in life that still allows us to grow into an individual human being. Torah is how God wants all of humanity to relate to each other and it is our mitzvah to teach Torah to the world. That is certainly a reason to rejoice on Shavuot.

And yet, Sukkot is the holiday where the Torah goes out of its way to tell us to be joyful for the week of this holiday. We wave palm branches, and we live in thatch huts, and this is supposed to make us happy. Sukkot represents our 40-year trek in the desert on our way to the Land of Promise. It was not an easy trek. There were shortages of food and water; there were fights with the surrounding nations. There were murmurings and rebellions among our own people. What is it that makes Sukkot the prime focus of all our joy?

The sukkah itself is not such a snug place to live. The roof lets in the rain and the cold wind. It does shade us from the sun but even there, this is not July or August when we really could use the shade. In this dwelling, we are to rejoice on our holiday. I should add here that the rules of Sukkot are clear; that if the sukkah becomes a wet mess due to the weather, it is permitted to go back inside our regular homes so that we can rejoice on the holiday and not be miserable in the cold and wet outdoors.

It is true that a sukkah does not have much protection from the weather, but it does offer us SOME protection and for that we should be grateful. There could have been big miracles that God could have done for us in the wilderness. God could have given us paved roads to make the transport of the people and their belongings easier. Forget the small huts and tents, God could have created for us large palaces to live in as we traversed the desert. God even had the power to transport us from Egypt directly to the Promised Land on the backs of eagles. But God did none of those things. Maybe this is the heart of what makes this holiday a week of unbridled joy. Maybe Sukkot is teaching us about something special that we should rejoice over. This is not about the big miracles of Pesach or Shavuot, rather, Sukkot is about the myriad little miracles that God scatters about our lives.

Rabbi Ed Feinstein of California writes in his book, “Capturing the Moon,” “Do you ever get tired of the phone ringing, friends asking for a little bit of your time, family members making ceaseless demands? Have you ever wished that they would all go away and leave you alone? And if they did, how long would it be before you missed them? How long before you would discover that the greatest joy in life is knowing that you are needed and loved? …community life can be unnerving, and relationships can be distracting. Sometimes we need to step back to refocus our vision and remember the blessings that come by means of the people we love.”

 

It is easy to be happy on a special birthday. To call all your friends together and to celebrate is a very delightful moment. There is singing and gifts and yes, there is cake too. It is almost impossible to have cake and not be happy. This goes for other special days as well. Anniversaries, embarking on special trips, and even returning home safely after a long vacation; all these are times of celebration.

But what about the small moments when we feel glad? Our lives are filled with much we can be grateful to God for. From the moment we awaken in the morning, itself a moment of joy, to the time we settle into bed for the night, there are hundreds of moments each day where we experience happiness. Getting your morning coffee on the way to work, and not having to stand in line. Someone you work with who says they are glad to see you. A doctor who tells you that you are healthy, and she doesn’t want to see you again for another year. Getting the perfect painting for your dining room and it is marked down 50%! Finding your favorite cookies at the grocery store. A visit from the grandchildren. Your own children call you for advice! There are the flowers that bloom in the spring and colored leaves in the fall, (before you have to rake them up anyway). There are the pleasant smells of fresh roses and fresh cut grass. There is the lingering kiss of a loved one and the warm hug of a friend. There is even happiness in the shoulder that you can cry on and the friends who bring you, in your sadness, your favorite meal. There are the moments when we suddenly have a good decision for a life changing moment and there are the moments of inspiration when we wonder what we are going to do next.

Why do I need to enumerate the small blessings in life? We all know the thousands of them that occur every day, every week, all year long. But when do we stop and really celebrate those moments? When do we pause and express to God the little joys that make up our lives? Sukkot is that time. When we thank God for that little patch of shade in the sukkah, we also have the opportunity to thank God for the other small favors, blessings, and joys that make up a well lived life.

On Yom Kippur we enumerate the 44 sins that we repent on that sacred day, but we also need a day to thank God for the 4400 moments of joy or more that we were blessed with over the course of the year. Sukkot is set aside as the time to fully rejoice for the blessings we so often take for granted day after day.

Let us use this holiday to rejoice over the many people in our life, or maybe even in our sukkah, who are a blessing in our life. Do we ever really thank them for all the things that they do for us? I always remind people who have many friends that the only way to have a friend is to be a friend. That too is a blessing we need to rejoice over on Sukkot.

So, think about all the joyful moments in our life. Think about all the special people that share our life. Think about all the blessings we get from God everyday and then go out on this special holiday and let the joy overwhelm us, let it fill us so completely that we will call all our friends to join us for a meal in the sukkah so we can share that joy with the people who matter must to us.

Maybe, if we do it just right, people will begin to say that anyone who has not been to our sukkah, does not know what real joy is all about. “This is the day that God has made, may we celebrate and rejoice in it.”

May God daily give us reasons to celebrate, and may we rejoice each day with friends and family as we say …. Amen, Shabbat Shalom, and Hag Sameach

Sat, June 22 2024 16 Sivan 5784