Getting ready for Sukkot, and I came across a lovely little teaching from Rabbi S.R. Hirsch:
Rosh Hashana, which is a day of pleading and broken hearts, was established as a single day*. The same goes for Yom Kippur, which is a day of fasting, repentance, and forgiveness. They only have one day, but the Torah says that Sukkot, which is called “the time of our joy” is to be celebrated for seven days. This is because it was our Creator’s will that Israel (i.e. Jews) should continue in joy (i.e. spend more time in joy than in sorrow). Just as it is written, “Ivdu et Adonai b’Simcha -- serve Adonai in joy.”
* originally, Rosh Hashana was one day, not two, and Sukkot was seven days, not eight. That changed about 2000 years ago.
Rabbis and lay people alike often complain about the “two day a year Jews.” You know, those members who only show up for the High Holy Days. You know what the real problem is with that kind of Jewish life? It misses the best stuff.
Look, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are important, powerful holy days. But they aren't much fun. I've never heard anyone say, “Oh, goody! Yom Kippur is on its way! I can't wait to fast!” Even though people may find it very meaningful, I've never heard anyone describe sitting in synagogue all day as “fun.”
But, Sukkot is fun! We get to make a hut! We get to decorate it! We get to eat outside! We get to play outside! Especially given how hot the summer has been here in Tampa, and how lovely the past few days have been, I'm positively giddy with the prospect of spending some time outside, and even getting to call it “work.”
There's nothing wrong with seriousness. And sometimes important things have to be done which aren't much fun. But, it doesn't always have to be that way. It doesn't usually have to be that way. At its best, our religion (all religions?) should engender joy. We should love doing what we do. We should look forward to it, and look back on it with happy memories.
I don't think that it's a coincidence that several of my Rabbinic friends have recently referred to Sukkot as, “my favorite holiday.” After the High Holidays, it's a pure joy to step outside, raise the roof (sorry, couldn't resist), and celebrate with family, friends and community. An absolute joy, just as it was meant to be.