Sukkot: Keeping Cool or Crazy?
Sukkot is a holiday I call “housekeeper crazy.” And no, not because the housekeeper is going crazy from all the cleaning tasks—that’s Pesach. Sukkot is “housekeeper crazy” because the housekeeper sees “those Jews” and thinks we are crazy! Collectively, we leave our warm, comfortable homes to reside in an outdoor hut for a week. And no, we don’t do this by some beautiful campground out in the wilderness, but adjacent to the front or back door.
What are these Jews doing? They must wonder.
Truthfully, we may have our own questions regarding this holiday. A famous question asked by Chazal sticks out: Why is Sukkot celebrated in the fall?
If the sukkah commemorates the clouds of glory that followed us post-exodus from Egypt, then should it not be celebrated in the spring? Yet the Torah directly commands us to celebrate during the fall, specifically in the “seventh month.”
Additionally, although all holidays are time periods of joy, Sukkot is meant to elicit an extra dose. How does leaving our homes to sit in a little hut create happiness?
A common answer given is that if we were to sit the the sukkah during spring, people would mistakenly think that we are outdoors because of the pleasant weather. Rather, we sit in the sukkah during autumn, when the weather is cold and rainy, to make it clear that this as a mitzvah in the service of Hashem.
Well, this answer works beautifully, as long as you don’t live in Los Angeles! Here, the weather in September or October is perfect as usual, if not a little too warm.
I reflected upon this question for some time and came across the answer in a most unusual moment. It was early on a normal Tuesday morning when the phone rang. Our dear aunt, who was more like a mother to us, had suddenly passed away. While trying to digest this devastating information, we had moments to decide if we could attempt to fly to Israel for the funeral. The only flight that would enable us to attend was leaving at 1 p.m. that day and had a layover in New York.
We packed up our family of six at turbo speed and raced to the airport. We made the flight, tired but grateful. Six hours and only a few diaper changes later, we landed. But, a bigger hurdle was ahead, as we needed to change terminals and pass through security again to fly internationally.
Endorphins spurred us on as we dashed through the airport, begging those in line ahead to allow us to pass. Our family was worn out, but no one complained—not even the baby.
We made it to the gate, just as they were finishing boarding. Emotionally and physically drained, we collapsed into our designated seats, and I held our six-month-old close to my chest. She gazed calmly up at me and smiled. As my husband watched, he said, “She has no idea where she even is right now.”
I turned to him and coyly replied, “Oh, she knows exactly where she is. She’s in Mommy’s arms, and that’s all that matters.”
As I said the words, I realized that this is analogous for our relationship with Hashem.
As long as a baby is being carried by her mother, she has not a worry in the world. Similarly, when a parent pushes her baby in the stroller, even if the road has bumps, twists, and sharp turns, the baby feels safe and protected. Life too has hurdles and sharp turns. Yet, when we believe that we are being carried by Hashem, our fears and anxieties slip away, and that’s when serene happiness starts to seep in.
The baby I was holding close on the plane taught me this lesson for the first time while she was still growing inside me. During a routine sonogram, the doctor paused a little too long, and her facial expression indicated that something was wrong. I summoned the courage to ask her, “Is everything okay?”
She replied, “Well…I see a blood clot next to the baby.”
My heart sank as I prodded her for more information.
She continued, “I once saw a blood clot so large, I was certain the baby would not survive. But, that woman gave birth to a perfectly healthy baby. Your clot is smaller, so hopefully everything will be okay.”
Upon arriving home, the tears welled up immediately, and I felt myself leaning into Hashem’s presence. I prayed, “Hashem, you are in control. At this point, my body is either going to yield a healthy baby, or a miscarriage, either of which will be painful. My body is your vessel, and whatever you choose, I accept. Just please, Hashem, carry me through the process.”
Saying these words calmed me, for I realized that the only way for me to conquer my fear was to submit myself to G-d.
Later, I learned of Tammy Karmel, a woman suffering from ALS, who lost all mobility except in one eye. While she was still teaching Torah during the early onset of her diagnosis, she gave a beautiful class on the concept of ki besimcha tezehu. She expressed that we cannot just submit ourselves to G-d, but must joyously accept his will, as well.
When she discovered her diagnosis, she made a seuda hoda’a. Initially, her children thought this meant that she was not diagnosed with the disease, but Tammy was actually trying to share a message. She firmly believes that joy is path on which we exit our suffering. Serving Hashem is about serving Him the way He wants us to serve Him, and this ultimately elicits true joy.
A teacher of mine, Aviva Feiner, was expecting a baby after 12 childless years. Moments after her baby boy was born, he was whisked away and found to have a “one in a billion rare disease,” something that no other human had ever been diagnosed with. Every time her baby took a breath in, he was at risk of dying. Yet, just five days after his birth, she spoke to the community at large. Still recouping from her C-section surgery, she recalls entering the auditorium overflowing with people. She felt Hashem’s presence supporting her while she began her speech. “I want you all to know, I have never felt closer to Hashem in my entire life, holding me and carrying me through this process every step of the way.”
I believe that this is the message of Sukkot. When we know and feel Hashem’s protection, it matters not where we are physically, or under what circumstances. As we sit enveloped in Hashem’s sukkah, we can let go of the fear, knowing that Hashem is the ultimate protector. Perhaps this is the connection between yetziat mitzrayim and Sukkot. We exited Egypt on Pesach, culminating with Sukkot where we feel Hashem’s ultimate protection. We may think that after the high holidays, Hashem’s presence departs, but during Sukkot, Hashem reminds us that His presence is still close by.
Utilizing the sukkah is one of the only mitzvot we do with our whole body. Our entire being is enveloped by the sukkah, the way a mother holds her baby. Essentially, Hashem is enveloping us in His love and security, and this will bring us the joy and serenity we all look for.
Whether living in Los Angeles, England, or Australia, we know exactly where we are on Sukkot. We are surrounded and protected by Hashem’s love. May this knowledge bring us the happiness Sukkot offers. And for those lucky enough to have housekeepers, may they remain with you despite the “crazy.”