Sukkot is celebrated this year September 27-October 4.
For 40 years, as our ancestors traversed the Sinai Desert following the Exodus from Egypt, miraculous “clouds of glory” surrounded and hovered over them, shielding them from the dangers and discomforts of the desert. Ever since, we remember G-d’s kindness and reaffirm our trust in His providence by dwelling in a – sukkah – a hut of temporary construction with a roof covering of branches – for the duration of the Sukkot festival (on the Jewish calendar Tishrei 15-21). For seven days and nights, we eat all our meals in the sukkah and otherwise regard it as our home.
Another Sukkot observance is the taking of the Four Kinds: an etrog (citron), a lulav (palm frond), three hadassim (myrtle twigs) and two aravot (willow twigs). On each day of the festival (excepting Shabbat), we take the Four Kinds, recite a blessing over them, bring them together in our hands and wave them in all six directions: right, left, forward, up, down and backward.
Our sages in the Midrash tell us that the Four Kinds represent the various types and personalities that comprise the community of Israel, whose intrinsic unity we emphasize on Sukkot.
Sukkot is also called The Time of Our Joy; and indeed, a special joy pervades the festival. Nightly Water-Drawing Celebrations, reminiscent of the evening-to-dawn festivities held in the Holy Temple in preparation for the drawing of water for use in the festival service, fill the synagogues and streets with song, music and dance until the wee hours of the morning.
Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov (1698-1760) founder of the Chassidic Movement, taught that even the simplest soul can bond to the Infinite Creator with love and joy.
“Serve G-d with joy!” sings the Psalmist.
Joy is central to connecting to G-d. Being happy when you do a mitzvah – a commandment – demonstrates that you like this connection, this tremendous privilege of serving the Infinite Author of All Things. And in fact, the Arizal, the 16th-century master Kabbalist, once asserted that the gates of wisdom and divine inspiration were opened for him only as a reward for doing mitzvahs with boundless joy.
Not just mitzvahs – commandments, but everything you do – eating, sleeping, business and even leisure activities – can be part of the way you connect to G-d. All it takes is the right intentions. If so, “serve G-d with joy” applies to all times and every situation.
When you’re happy, the toughest tasks are a cinch, the strongest adversaries are easily vanquished. If you’re down, on the other hand, even simple challenges seem overwhelming. Winning the lifelong battle against temptations, self-centeredness and just doing the right thing is largely dependent on staying bright, happy and optimistic.
Wishing everyone a wonderful year to come, with blessings for only good and happiness.
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Candles should be lit for Shabbat on Friday, September 25, at 7:17 p.m.; for Sukkot on Sunday, September 27, at 7:14 p.m. and Monday, September 28, at 8:10 p.m.; for Shabbat on Friday, October 2, at 7:06 p.m.; for Shemini Atzeret on Sunday, October 4, at 7:03 p.m.; for Simchat Torah on Monday, October 5, after 7:59 p.m.; and for Shabbat on Fridays, October 9, at 6:56 p.m.; October 16, at 6:46; and October 23, at 6:36 p.m.
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Editor’s note: Rabbi Yosef Levy, a Chabad rabbi and the OU Kosher expert and rabbinic field representative for the states of Kentucky and Indiana, has volunteered to provide Torah commentaries for Community.