Sukkot must have been easier when the Almighty provided the meals. Manna fell from the Heavens and all the Jewish people had to do was collect it. They could then spend the rest of the holiday just basking in His presence.
Our Sukkot experience is slightly different. It involves repeated trips to the grocery store, extensive menu planning, the cooking of many large Yom Tov meals, and the consequent serving and cleaning up. The time for "basking" seems more limited.
How does that affect our understanding of and relationship with the holiday of Sukkot? Does it result in a more superficial holiday or perhaps a deeper one? I think the choice is up to us.
It starts with our focus. Why are we engaged in all of the aforementioned behaviors -- the shopping, the cooking, the table setting and clearing? Is it just a week of dinner parties? Have we temporarily taken over the management of a restaurant? (Yes, I know, that's what it feels like!) Is it a creative challenge, a test of our culinary skills, a gauge of our limitations?
It can be all of the above. But it can also be more. We are creating a space for the Shechina -- the Almighty's presence -- to reside. We can make it a beautiful space that delights the eyes. We can create delicious foods to satisfy our taste and olfactory senses. And we can do it all not as an indulgence of our bodies but in service of our Creator.
We can engage in seemingly mundane tasks just to satisfy our physical needs or as a means of elevating them to the level of the spiritual. Every act of preparation for Sukkot can be holy if our motivation is focused and directed.
To create a home for the Almighty's presence is a noble and ennobling task. It may also be a lot of work! It may involve grocery shopping, extensive menu planning, the cooking of many large Yom Tov meals and consequent serving and cleaning up.
But if we make our effort with this goal in mind, then we too will bask in the Almighty's presence. In fact, although we can't compare ourselves to earlier generations, I would venture to say that perhaps, just perhaps, our basking will be deeper and more meaningful due to all the advance preparation.