As I’ve become more observant and more familiar with mitzvot and halacha and various minhagim, I’ve been struck by the almost absurdity of the Yom Kippur-Sukkot transition. It seems odd to me that, hours after experiencing the most Awesome day of the Jewish calendar, after going through a grueling and soul-wrenching fast accompanied by walks to shul, much standing, and seemingly endless praying, one would immediately go out and begin building the sukkah in anticipation of Sukkot. Sukkot – zman simchatenu – the holiday of happiness – seems to be in stark contrast to Yom Kippur with all of its solemnity.
On top of the huge spectrum of emotions that seems to occur in hours, there are only 4 days to prepare. 4 days to build a hut, acquire a lulav and etrog (and one can spend hours selecting the best), and plan and cook meals. FOUR DAYS! Isn’t that a bit of a time crunch? Why did Hashem give us no lead time? There are 40 days from Rosh Hodesh Elul to Yom Kippurâ€¦many start preparing for Pesach weeks in advanceâ€¦why this huge rush for Sukkot? Essentially, why is Hashem practically punishing us with this crazy schedule?? And why is this sukkah – this little hut – of such importance if, lets face it, not everyone is gifted with carpentry skills? Why all these challenges?
And then it hit me as my husband gleefully put together our first sukkah this week.
On Yom Kippur, vidduy lists all of our sins. We are faced with everything that we could have possibly done wrong over the last year. In our prayers we say that we are dust, that we are barely worthy, that we have failed – and that we hope to improve and do better next year. We pray for life so that we can be granted the opportunity to do better. During davening or during quiet introspection on Yom Kippur we mentally think of how we can do better: this year I will take on this new mitzvah; this year I will put into practice this halacha that I learned; this year I resolve to speak less lashon haraâ€¦we become creative and hopeful. Perhaps it is possible to change; I think I can! I want to do better! And by the time ne’ilah rolls around, we daven so hard saying, “Yes – I can do it – just give me the chance – I know I can!”
And then the shofar is blown, we wolf down food – and what do we do next? Run – don’t walk – to do the first mitzvah that we can. And run we have to because we only have 4 days. And the 4 days is significant because it is not a lot of time! There is no time to waste! If there were more time, such as more than 10 days, then there is greater opportunity for a person to waver in their convictions or for the schedule to become too busy to build a sukkah. It is the time crunch that drives a person to fulfill the mitzva, and if we were given more time, how many of us would opt out for the sake of convenience?
The look on my husband’s face is priceless as he shows off our sukkah. Knowing that he accomplished this huge mitzva, despite the many trips to Home Depot, despite the errors that delayed construction, I can read several emotions in his face: pride in what he built with his hands, satisfaction in fulfilling the mitzva for the first time, giddiness in all of the decorations and lights. But perhaps the most significant emotion is the feeling of “I did it!” – and it’s despite the odds, despite having no time between work and nightfall, despite the construction snafus, despite the bugs (it is Houston, after all). This mitzva is done! And possibly, if I can do this mitzva, then I can do othersâ€¦
And isn’t that a great feeling to start off a new year?
First published on Oct 1, 2007