They are obviously important and give us guidance in how to start our year: reflecting back on the year that was, repentance and forgiveness to clear the path from the past, and wiping the slate clean to start again, forging ahead with a new future.
The ten days of Teshuva, from Rosh Hashana through Yom Kippur, are filled with intensity. Soul searching, emotional, humbling.
Standing before God in judgment, we pray and plead to be inscribed in the book of life. We repent, we atone, we fast. With our fate — our life — hanging in the balance, we unleash the most potent weapon we have — our words — to save ourselves.
We promise to do better. At the end of Yom Kippur, the gates are closed, the books are sealed, we break the fast.
And then what?
Putting Ideas Into Practice
Sukkot is the holiday that teaches us how to put this into practice in the real world.
It’s easy to feel God’s presence in the synagogue, while surrounded by community. Or even in the safety of your home, while watching a livestream of services.
But life isn’t lived in the safety of the synagogue or the home.
Sukkot asks us to find our faith when the Divine presence isn’t as obvious: when we are out in the wild, in a temporary, fragile shelter with an exposed roof, keenly aware of the fragility of life and our place in this world.
How do you find your footing when you’re forced from your home because the earth is burning? How do you find comfort in community when you’re forced to isolate and distance? How can you feel joy for life when surrounded by death and despair?
These are the questions of life, especially in 2020. These are the the lessons we learn through the holiday of Sukkot, not in the prayer services but through an embodied experience: by living and eating in the sukkah for eight days.
The Illusion of Predictability
For those who want to leave the holidays early to “get back to normal,” Sukkot is a reminder that “normal” doesn’t exist, that predictability and certainty are illusions.
Sukkot reminds us that the values we espouse in our prayers on the high holidays mean little if not implemented in day-to-day living.
Faith doesn’t just show up in the safety of the sanctuary. We must cultivate it and carry it with us.
Sukkot is where and how we learn to cultivate faith. It’s where we learn to find stability without structure, to find grace even when we are not on solid ground, and to find the expansiveness of joy even as nature contracts.
The Festival of Insecurity
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks calls it the “festival of insecurity.”
In a world that is increasingly uncertain, in a year where the illusion of predictability has been shattered, Sukkot is more relevant than ever before.