Sukkot: The light in the Sukkah

On the Yamim Nora’im
the intensity compares
to almost unbearably dazzling light.

Sometimes eyes are narrowed,
aching at the strain
of seeking the Divine.

In the shelter of the sukkah,
fierce rays are filtered;
a softened glow shines steadily within.

And from this gentle light,
twinkling motes float up
drifting through the latticed roof.


The late summer/early autumn sun that frequently streams into the Sukkah is attenuated into a gentle brightness by the porous roof; the dazzling luminosity is mellowed. It seems analogous to the passion and turbulence of the preceding weeks, culminating in Yom Kippur. The subsequent days leading up to Sukkot, and Sukkot itself, yield a resolve that is softer and more sustainable.

Rav Kook teaches that repentance on Yom Kippur illuminates the soul with the light of the World to Come. He says that Yom Kippur’s elevation causes us to become distanced from our own physical world. Just as we prepare ourselves to ascend to the heights of Yom Kippur in a gradual process during the month of Elul, so we return slowly to our more mundane existence while hopefully retaining some of the sanctity of the Yamim Nora’im. The days between Yom Kippur and Sukkot help us do that, and building the sukkah enables us to channel this other-worldly light into more practical physical pursuits.

The Chatam Sofer was known for his assiduous Torah learning – he would never waste any time which could be spent on it. However, he penned an entire book of songs. His son the Ketav Sofer was asked where his father found the time to compose these verses. The son responded that during the days between Yom Kippur and Sukkot, his father had been so charged by intense feelings of love toward his Creator that he had been unable to apply himself to learning Torah. It was during this period that he wrote the verses.

In a blogpost entitled Sukkot: Yom Kippur’s Counterbalance, http://www.jewishrecon.org/resource/sukkot-yom-kippurs-counterbalance, Rabbi Michael Cohen points out that “the traditional pounding of the first nail into the sukkah as soon as the fast of Yom Kippur is over both literally and figuratively hammers home the point that these two holidays must be seen as complementary parts of the whole. The insular, cerebral nature of Yom Kippur is balanced by the commandment on Sukkot to go outside to build and to live in the sukkah. The two holidays need each other. Our internal work is a necessary prerequisite providing us with the spiritual sustenance and energy to walk in the material world. When we separate the two or only do one we are incomplete.” Rabbi Cohen adds that this connection between Yom Kippur and Sukkot has its origin in the tradition [which Rashi cites] which holds that Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the second set of tablets on Yom Kippur and the next day he assembled the entire community to instruct them in the fashioning of the Mishkan – the portable sanctuary. He says, “Our building of the sukkah is in part a remembrance of our building of the Mishkan…a dwelling place for God in the world. This is our charge – to understand that no matter what work we do in our lives we must see that work as creating a place for God to dwell among us…We must release the sparks of holiness contained in what we do.”

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