A Time of Rejoicing

In Deuteronomy 16, Moshe outlines the Shalosh Regalim, the three festivals each year that Israel was to go up to Jerusalem to celebrate: Pesach (Passover), Shavuot (Weeks), and Sukkot (Booths). Interestingly, Sukkot stands out from the other two and in the process receives one of its additional names, Zman Simchatenu, “our times of rejoicing.” Concerning Sukkot, it is written,

So you will rejoice in your feast—you, your son and daughter, slave and maid, Levite and outsider, orphan and widow within your gates. (Deut. 16:14)

After the Selichot and introspection of Elul and the heaviness of the ten Days of Awe (spanning the time between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur), now we enter into a specific time of rejoicing. But not only do we enter a time of rejoicing, we are commanded to rejoice.

It is easy to look around at our world today and decide that there is little to cause one to rejoice; in fact, for many, mourning for current and potential future situations would be more logical. However, Rav Shaul’s simple but emphatic statement should help guide our thoughts and emotions,

For we walk by faith, not by sight. (2 Corinthians 5:7)

Consider this time of dwelling in our sukkahs, as a week cut off from the trials and tribulations of the world outside our booths. The world will, for sure, be there after the holiday is over. But our gracious Father has set aside a time for us to step out of the worldly realm and enter into a time and space set apart to be with Him, as it is written in Leviticus 23:40-42,

On the first day you are to take choice fruit of trees, branches of palm trees, boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook, and rejoice before ADONAI your God for seven days. You are to celebrate it as a festival to ADONAI for seven days in the year. It is a statute forever throughout your generations—you are to celebrate it in the seventh month. You are to live in sukkot for seven days.

For many, this Sukkot will be difficult. We may be separated from family and friends (some who may have passed on over the last number of months), or even like here in Israel, not even able to gather together at all due to lockdown parameters. And then there are some who may not even be able to build their sukkah this year because of either pandemic or economic restrictions. But whatever the cause of the difficulty might be, that does not negate the Scriptural command to rejoice during the next seven days in the presence of our LORD. So as so often in our lives, the choice is ours – to choose to be obedient and rejoice in the presence of ADONAI, or to choose to keep our eyes focused upon the world and all of its problems and concerns. Let’s determine together to choose to follow Rav Shaul’s encouragement and “walk by faith” and in doing so rejoice in the presence of our God.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sukkot Sameach!

This article was written by Rabbi Michael Hillel. For more by Rabbi Hillel, read Reflecting on Taschlich, Entering on the Days of Awe, or On Nusachim.

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