"Whew..we just breathed a sigh of relief as the shofar sounded to end Yom Kippur and the Days of Awe and already we are busy preparing for Sukkot with its many rituals and requirements. As I was breaking my fast I could hear the rat tat tat in the neighborhood as families began work on the Sukka. Indeed tradition mandates that immediately after the fast of Yom Kippur, that same night, we at least commence the work of Sukka building.
Why? Why is the holiday of Sukkot placed in such close proximity to Yom Kippur?
We already know that the reason for the holiday is, as the Torah tells us, to give thanks for the Divine protection in the wilderness after the exodus from Egypt when we lived a very vulnerable existence.By right the holiday should then be in the spring, at or near the time of the Exodus. The Rabbis explained that the reason the chag is in the fall is so no one should say we are simply building our sukkot for the spring and summer season, to enjoy the outdoors. We build and live in the Sukka to show trust in the Divine, even as our ancestors displayed. To highlight that point we build the sukka when the world is moving back inside in the fall where the temps are dropping, rather than spring and summer.
O'kay so now we understand why Sukkot is in the fall. But why does it need to come but 5 days after Yom Kippur. We barely have a chance to breathe. The challenge to build a sukka, purchase a lulav and etrog and make all the preparations for the holiday is typically frantic. Would it have been so bad if we had a couple of weeks to get ready?
I think the answer to our question teaches us something incredably important... the lesson is about life not just about the holidays.
Let me ask you...lets suppose you know you have a problem...say you over-eat or you get angry easily. What's the best way to correct the problem? Some might say," We need to go at our problems directly. We need to be fully aware of how serious our issue is, with no rationalizations or excuses. We need to face the consequences of our lapse. And then we need to make a resolution, with all our heart and mind, that we will not succumb to the inappropriate behavior anymore". Surely this model for changing behavior is the protoype for teshuva. We need regret the sin, confess the sin and then leave the sin behind.
But does it work? Each year we come to Yom Kippur and we feel the same remorse over the same sins, done in another year. We confess with feeling our wrongdoing. And we make a fervent resolution to get it right. Yet so little changes.
Sometimes one wonders is there a better way to get at this?
The truth is, yes there is. Systems theorists have long ago realized that where the problem shows up is not necessarily the source of the problem. Lets take a family. A particular child may be acting out, perhaps s/he is a problem at school or rebellious at home.The natural assumption is that s/he, that child has a problem. We take him or her to a therapist or find some way to change his/her behavior focusing on him/her.
Family systems therapists want us to look differently at the situation. For them we all live within systems and we are part of systems. It is a mistake to see something in isolation when in truth it's a part of a whole. When something is not working, that is the identified problem, but not necessarly it source. The source may well be a weakness in the system. The place the problem shows up is just the weakest point in the system where the malfunctioning becomes evident. The problem is with the system, not the piece that is not working well. In the case we gave of a child acting out, a family systems approach would not look to find a problem in the child, thereby making him the scapegoat. Rather we need look at the family, the system as as a whole, and ask ourselves "what's not working here? what relationship is out of sorts?" In diagnosing the family as a whole we come to see the child as expressing the systemic weakness. And rather that fixing him/her, we strengthen the family, we improve the functioning of the system, and with that the problem will disappear in the identified patient.
I believe the Torah, in providing us with the holiday of Sukkot, immediately after Yom Kippur is teaching us the truth that systems theorists came to understand 3000 years later. On Yom Kippur we became painfully aware of our sins. They are our spiritual acting-out behaviors. To admit the problem and confess is great and necessary. But that in itself will not lead to change. And why? because when we act-out in sin the sinful behavior is reflective of a systemic spiritual weakness in us. The sin is a symptom not a cause. Going at the sin and trying to fix it as an isolated phenomena is like going after the identified patient when the problem is with the system. It is usually not effective. And even if you fix the identified patient if you don't correct the system the acting-out will just show up somewhere else.
If we want to make it so we can overcome our sins we need to go at it in a different way. We need to see the sinning as a sign of a systemic spiritual weakness. Instead of focusing on the sin we need to concentrate on our over-all spiritual wellbeing and functioning. That is precisely why Sukkot follows Yom Kippur and the Days of Awe in such close succession.
Yom Kippur we became fully aware of the places we are acting-out against G-d and man. We can no longer hide from our lapses. Now on Sukkot we perform two central mitzvot. We dwell in the Sukka an we wave the lulav and etrog, the four kinds.
Both mitzvot have one thing in common. Their agenda is the whole person.
To dwell in the Sukka we need to bring all of us into the mitzva. The lulav and etrog,in tradition,symbolizes the heart and spine, the mouth and eyes.The four kinds represent four key organs of the body that we wave before G-d to symbolize our devotion and commitment to Him.
And more, Sukkot is both the holiday of joy and of community.
Yes, we have sinned. Yes we want to do better. But to do better is to be better. And to be better is to become more aligned with the holy than we have been in the past.
That's the message of Sukkot.
You want to stop sinning?..fill your world with meaning and purpose, add depth and feeling to your service of the Divine. Do that and the sins, the identified spiritual problems,will disapear.
Sukkot is the remedy for the issues we identified on Yom Kippur.
The good news is that this means for self correction engenders joy rather than self recrimination.