Last Friday night the rabbi noted that Sukkot is called "Z'man Simhatenu," "season of our joy." But "z'man" can also mean "to invite"--to invite joy, especially if it won't come of its own accord. Sukkot is the most favorite holiday ever of just about everyone I know, but I must confess that I don't get it. I tried, but joy was a little reluctant to stop by at the party. If I lived in a place where I could spend time in nature, in the fields... with fresh produce... in a sukkah that wasn't sandwiched in an alleyway between two apartment buildings... then Sukkot would ring much truer. I tried to see the lulav as a tall sheaf of wheat reaching to the heavens as I shook, but my imagination, which worked well when it came to Book of Life and God as toothpaste tube imagery, wouldn't stretch that far.
Also--I understand the dramatic arc of these holidays, which build from despair on Tisha be-Av all the way up to Simhat Torah ecstasy. But the experience, to me, often feels more like a bipolar stutter than a logical course of emotional growth. We beat our breasts on Yom Kippur while singing prayers set to glorious, soaring melodies. We're joyous on Sukkot but read Kohelet, price of angst.
This morning at services for Hoshanah Rabbah, I finally understood. Why, asked the rabbi, do the gates close for good, metaphorically speaking, on this day rather than Yom Kippur? Because, explain the sages, on Sukkot we're happy and so can feel love more easily than on Yom haDin, the day of judgment. And God wants us to change out of love, not fear, so waits until Hoshannah Rabbah to give us that chance. I would also imagine God gives us a taste of these opposites--happiness on the heels of sadness, or vice-versa--as a reminder that outcomes aren't always what we might expect. Joy may not last forever, but neither will despair. There's always hope.
This is awfully nice of God, and a good reason to be happy. Which I am.