Rav Nachman Breslover coined the phrase “It is a great Mitzvah to be joyous constantly”. We know that, in particular, there is a Mitzvah of Simchas HaChag (being cheerful during a Holiday). Still Sukkos is known as THE Time of Our Joy. I’d like to share two thoughts that lend insight into why Sukkos is identified with joy and that also speak to Ba’alei T’shuva in particular.
The S’fas Emes explains that the Sukkah, as a Diras Arai (an insubstantial non-permanent dwelling place) is a home that is not a home, a place that is not a place. A sincere Ba’al T’shuva often feels so devastated by his sin that he feel as though he have no place in the world. The more homeless and misfit-ed a Ba’al T’shuva feels the more Divine Compassion is aroused and the more G-d creates an abode for the emotionally/spiritually homeless. Immediately after Yom Kippur the entire Jewish People are Ba’alei T’shuva. The Sukkah is G-d’s “homeless shelter” for all of K’lal Yisrael. The holy ambience of the Sukkah is that of a place that is in this world but not of it, an abode and a welcoming sanctuary for those who despaired of ever finding a place in their world again. If it had a sense of permanence about it then the Sukkah could never be a comfortable place – a natural habitat for the relentlessly ill at ease Ba’al T’shuva. But, insubstantial as a cloud, it restores to the Ba’al T’shuva his lost glory. Having “come home” after despairing of ever finding a home again we are ecstatic.
It’s been said that the opposite of love is not hate but apathy. Most of us have had emotional “absolute value” moments when our feelings turned on a dime from one extreme to another. e.g. (to borrow a sports clich) going from the agony of defeat to the ecstasy of victory or, G-d forbid, vice versa.
If we find a hole in our pockets and discover that we’ve lost a five dollar bill most of us will be upset for a few moments and then move on. But if we discover that a 20 million dollar winning lottery ticket slipped out through the same pocket hole we will be devastated. If, miraculously, a serendipitous win blows our lost ticket back into our hands then our joy will be indescribable.
Rabenu Yonah says that our festive feasting on Yom Kippur Eve prior to the actual Yom Kippur fast is a litmus test for the sincerity and depth of our T’shuva. Much like the hole-in-the-pocket lotto winner perceiving that the scrap of paper flying back towards him is his lost and deeply lamented ticket, the Ba’al T’shuva is elated to see his/her winning ticket i.e. recovering their ruptured relationship with G-d, about to be restored. The truest testimony to a Ba’alei T’shuva’s remorse and sense of loss of a relationship with the Divine is the joy with which he anticipates its imminent restoration.
Rav Hutner z”l concludes that the unique joy of Sukkos is the realization of the dream of Erev Yom Kippur. After all… as happy as the lotto winner is as he sees the winning ticket floating back to within his grasp, he is even happier when he, once again, grasps it in his hand.
Originally Posted on Oct 5, 2006