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Sukkot 5775 — 10/08/2014

Sukkot 5775 — 10/08/2014

The sukkah-booth reflects a highly elevated joy, so lofty that it cannot be permanent, only temporary.  Nonetheless it [appears to] be stationary due to a continual flow of light-waves of joy.  One wave surges; then immediately, without interruption, it breaks and the next wave rushes forth, a new wave even brighter and more joyful.  Thus, it appears to be one  sukkah; but in fact, each second and each moment, there is truly a new sukkah.  Rav Kook

We are commanded to be joyful on all our holidays, but Sukkot especially is called z’man simchateinu, the season of our joy, and the commandment to be joyful is emphatically stated in Torah (Devarim 16:15): and you shall be ach joyful.  Ramban translates the particle ach as an intensifier – we are to be intensely joyful.

Joy is virtually a prerequisite to serving Gd.  Someone who is not joyful will not have access to the spirit of prophecy; there are instances in Scripture where prophets had to prepare themselves with music or other inspirational techniques to be prepared to receive Divine communication.  And lack of joy is one of Gd’s main criticisms of Israel in the great Rebuke towards the end of Deuteronomy (28:47): Because you did not serve Hashem your Gd with joy…

Now it should be clear that what the Torah calls “joy” and what we usually associate with that concept are two different things.  We think of enjoying ourselves on vacation at a resort, or perhaps enjoying a football game or even a fine bottle of  wine.  On the more spiritual side we might enjoy an art museum or a concert, or even just spending time with someone we love.  All of this is well and good, as long as it doesn’t lead to frivolity and/or licentiousness.

The Jewish ideal of joy, simchah, is something very different.  We believe that each of us was put on this earth to do a specific job, to do Gd’s Will in order to further the Divine Plan for the evolution of the cosmos.  There are times when we fall short, and that is why we have days like Yom Kippur, to reset our relationship with Gd and to rededicate ourselves to doing what we’re supposed to be doing.  But there are other times when something clicks right inside us, and everything we do is perfect, harmonious, supported by the entire environment.  This is called simchah shel mitzvah, the joy of the mitzvah, the joy of performing action completely in accord with Gd’s Will.  This is the highest joy a person can have – to be acting in the world, without losing one’s attachment to the Creator of the world, to be involved on the surface with all the hustle and bustle of business or finance or construction, while at the same time identifying ourselves with a profound level of silence in the depths of our being.

People in various fields have spoken about their experiences when life flows in perfection – Bill Russell, the great center for the Boston Celtics, described it as “playing out of your mind,” and indeed, his description (of the whole team actually) shows that the conscious, thinking mind plays very little role when a team is playing on this level.  Rather, their actions are completely spontaneous, harmonious, and there is a feeling of silence that envelopes the players amidst all the din of the arena.  Besides the fact that they would win the game when playing like this, it was an intensely blissful feeling.  I should point out that this took place before free agency, the team had practiced and played together for a long time, and they were all superb athletes.  Our results may vary!

Three years ago I began with another quote from Rav Kook, where he points out that Sukkot forms a bridge between the natural world and the supernatural world, the transcendent.  Sukkot is a harvest festival, which is about as natural as you can get, yet it also commemorates the “clouds of glory” that sheltered the Jewish people for 40 years in the desert, killing all the snakes and scorpions and other deadly creatures out of our way, and providing miraculous protection from the sun  and the heat.  We celebrate both when we sit in the Sukkah, with good food, and hopefully good weather.  And we are commanded to be extremely joyful!  Why especially now?

Rav Kook’s formulation may give us an idea.  By integrating the natural and the supernatural, the finite aspects of existence with their infinite basis, we can reach a level of “living out of our minds.”  And we can be at that level continuously, not just on rare occasions.  As our minds expand to infinity, we can tap into the cosmic computing power that runs the entire creation; our will is subsumed in Gd’s Will, our body-driven agendas fade in comparison with the bright light of perfection that we experience.  This is the mission Gd has given the Jewish people, to proclaim His Name in the Creation – to integrate Gd’s perfection into an unredeemed world.  When we accomplish that, we will be out of our minds with joy!

Chag Same’ach!