My three-year-old son has a new game he loves to play with me. It started during Rosh Hashana. He would call out an emotion and then we would both act out that feeling. He'd say, "Ima, let's be angry!" and we would make "angry" faces and say, "Grrrrr." Or "Ima, let's be surprised!" and we would both open our eyes and mouths wide with a deer-in-the-headlights expression.
But I noticed something curious that both warmed my heart and made me think about this holiday season. When my son wanted to enact "sad," he would ask only me to be sad, "Ima, you be sad." And then, when I would make my saddest face and pretend to cry (and as a drama school graduate from NYU, let me tell you I can act sad), my son would wrap his arms around me in the sweetest hug and say, "Don't be sad, I'm with you." And then if I'd continue to cry, he'd say, "Don't worry, I'm here. Everything will be fine."
We've been playing this game a lot between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, and it touches me deeply. It's not just that I am thrilled that my son can show such sweet empathy toward another person at this young age, although that is wonderful. But I was thinking that I was, in fact, truly sad in this season, mulling over all of the mistakes I've made and the people I've hurt over the year. Would I be truly forgiven by those people? Would I be truly forgiven by God? That is the struggle of Yom Kippur and that can leave me sad. But at the end of Yom Kippur, if we've really done teshuva and changed, then God has another message for us. It's the message of the hug.
When my son hugged me and told me that he was with me and that everything would be fine, I really felt like that's just what God would probably like me to know, too. And then I realized that God does let us know just that -- it's called Sukkot.
Sukkot is such an amazing holiday. We are commanded to dwell in a temporary hut outside of our warm, cozy homes, and our warm, cozy internal comfort zones, and be happy. Yes, we are commanded to be happy. How can that be?
A sukkah is that hug of forgiveness from God.
It's easy, actually. We have just been forgiven by God, and as Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach teaches, to be forgiven is very nice, but to be forgiven and then get a big hug let's us know that the forgiveness is deep and real. A sukkah is that hug of forgiveness from God.
A sukkah is also a hug of reassurance. We are surrounded by a mitzvah that connects us with God, our past and our future. We know that Jews all over the world and throughout all of time have built sukkahs to remind us that although much in life is temporary, God is always there. As we sit with family and friends in our sukkahs, we can feel that God is telling us, especially in these very unstable and scary times, "Don't be sad, I'm with you. Don't worry, I'm here and everything will be fine."