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Sukkot and the Purpose of Life

Sukkot and the Purpose of Life

Finding holiness in day-to-day life.


On Yom Kippur, we disengage from the normal lives that we live and enter a place of holiness. We don’t eat or drink, we wear white to symbolize our angelic origins and we spend the majority of the day in prayer. Then, before you know the holiday of Sukkot arrives and we’re singing and dancing, eating and drinking, and having the time of our lives partying in the sukkah.

What is the secret behind this extreme shift in our overall approach to the holidays? The answer is hidden within one of the philosophical foundations of Judaism.

When I was a young student I recall my teacher once asking us, “Gentlemen, how much do you have to change yourself for it to be considered a valuable change?” One after another students would suggest different ways to measure the success of true growth and inner change. After a few minutes he silenced the class and said, “From now on I want you to remember, there is no such thing as small change – all change, even in the little things, has a big impact.”

What does it mean to be holy? Kedusha - holiness is often misunderstood. There is a notion that holiness means to be totally disconnected from mundane reality; that it is sacred and something completely elevated. When we think of holy imagery we may imagine a monk sitting on the mountain top meditating and speaking gently, or someone else who stands detached from the day-to-day grind of work, computers and technology, changing diapers and cooking.

Nothing could be further from the truth. To truly be holy means to be fully and passionately connected and identified with our inner self, while at the same having the capacity to express that through our day-to-day life.

The opposite of the word kodesh – holy, is the word chol – mundane. Interestingly, chol is also the same Hebrew word for sand. Why? Sand is unique from dirt in that no matter how much water you use to make the pieces stick, they ultimately remain separate entities and never really connect or join together. To be mundane means to be disconnected from our true purpose and meaning in life. The opposite is holiness which ultimately is the passionate connection to our soul, God and the pervasive purpose that exists within the fabric of creation.

On Yom Kippur, we temporarily leave the world behind and elevate our body to the place of our soul. We stop engaging in the material world by refraining from wearing comfortable shoes, showering, eating or drinking and spend the majority of the day in spiritual pursuits. Though we may see this as the holiest of holidays – the word choice of God in the Torah is tahara (see Leviticus 16:30) which means cleansing and healing.

Sukkot gives us the opportunity to connect our lives with true depth, beauty and meaning.

But on Sukkot, we don’t bring our body up to our soul, rather we bring our newly cleansed and clarified soul and vision back down into our body. We are meant to ask ourselves the question: “Now that I went through the ten days of repentance, how can I bring that down into my day to day life – to live as an expression of my deepest self?” The answer to that question is in the Sukkah.

The sukkah is a place where everything we do from eating and drinking to sleeping and shmoozing becomes elevated and sanctified because it’s being done within the context of a mitzvah, a divine commandment. The mitzvah of living in the sukkah affords us the opportunity to see what life would be like if everything we did was connected with true depth, beauty and meaning.

The Torah teaches us that to truly be a holy person, we need not run away from the world and up towards the soul, rather we must grab the world with all of its glory, identify and fill it with the majesty of our own unique divinity. This Sukkot, let us take the time to remember how high we reached on Yom Kippur and find many ways to channel those moments into our day to day lives and elevate even the little things.

Adapted from Succos Inspired: Discovering depth, joy and meaning

October 12, 2016

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Visitor Comments: 3

(2) jim, October 16, 2016 5:54 PM

depth, joy, meaning, discovered

the more one gets out of them (holydays), the more one can put into them, and then too, vice versa!

(1) Dina, October 13, 2016 10:02 PM

Great if you can have a sukkah

We are older, with disabilities & my 72 yo husband has cancer. There is no way we can build a sukkah. And, the pre-fab ones are $500 and up. Who can afford that as retirees?
Also, has anyone slept in a sukkah with 35 degrees F outside? We already are using our heater in the house.
At least, we buy an etrog & luvav that we shake outside on our back patio & say the bracha once a day. We have no family here, & small Jewish community. (My husband, the day after chemo was begged by our rabbi to come to shul last Shabbat since we had visitors from NYC, & my husband was needed for a minyan. He went & was a warm, male body & was the 10th man.)

One young man who has been visiting over the High Holy Days, & being a Cohen was running across the street to the Conservative synagogue from our Orthodox one so they would have a Cohen for the blessings. And, he also was visiting from NYC!

Even our synagogue has aging members, & the question in the women's section while waiting for Yom Kippur mincha was if the synagogue will have a sukkah. At least, several years ago, someone made poles using PVC pipe and with the outside wall of the synagogue, hopefully, we will at least get to sit in a sukkah & have a cup of coffee.

Someone asked me about cooking for Sukkot. I thought cooking was done after Rosh Hashanah & pre fast for Yom Kippur. We had leftovers, defrosted honey cake & challah to break the fast.

And, my husband & I have doctor appts, on Monday & Tuesday, & my cleaning woman (who asked me what the mezuzot are on our doorposts were for) will be cleaning on Wednesday, & my husband has his chemo on Friday mornings including during Sukkot.

Must be nice to live in a Jewish community with Jewish neighbors. We're the only Jews in our neighborhood. Actually, I have never lived where I wasn't the only Jewish student in school. I grew up Reform so didn't matter then.

Ra'anan, October 16, 2016 12:07 PM


You & your husband sound like wonderful & special people! May G-d bless you both w/good health & sweetness!

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