By: Rabbi Moshe Gersht
On Yom Kippur, we disengage from the normal lives that we live and enter a place of holiness. We don’t eat or drink, we wear white to symbolize our angelic origins and we spend the majority of the day in prayer. Then, before you know the holiday of Sukkot arrives and we’re singing and dancing, eating and drinking, and having the time of our lives partying in the sukkah.
What is the secret behind this extreme shift in our overall approach to the holidays? The answer is hidden within one of the philosophical foundations of Judaism.
When I was a young student I recall my teacher once asking us, “Gentlemen, how much do you have to change yourself for it to be considered a valuable change?” One after another, students would suggest different ways to measure the success of true growth and inner change. After a few minutes he silenced the class and said, “From now on I want you to remember, there is no such thing as small change – all change, even in the little things, has a big impact.”
What does it mean to be holy? Kedusha–holiness is often misunderstood. There is a notion that holiness means to be totally disconnected from mundane reality; that it is sacred and something completely elevated. When we think of holy imagery we may imagine a monk sitting on the mountain top meditating and speaking gently, or someone else who stands detached from the day-to-day grind of work, computers and technology, changing diapers and cooking.
Nothing could be further from the truth. To truly be holy means to be fully and passionately connected and identified with our inner self, while at the same having the capacity to express that through our day-to-day life.
The opposite of the word kodesh – holy, is the word chol – mundane. Interestingly, chol is also the same Hebrew word for sand. Why? Sand is unique from dirt in that no matter how much water you use to make the pieces stick, they ultimately remain separate entities and never really connect or join together. To be mundane means to be disconnected from our true purpose and meaning in life. The opposite is holiness which ultimately is the passionate connection to our soul, God and the pervasive purpose that exists within the fabric of creation.
On Yom Kippur, we temporarily leave the world behind and elevate our body to the place of our soul. We stop engaging in the material world by refraining from wearing comfortable shoes, showering, eating or drinking and spend the majority of the day in spiritual pursuits. Though we may see this as the holiest of holidays – the word choice of God in the Torah is tahara (see Leviticus 16:30) which means cleansing and healing.
But on Sukkot, we don’t bring our body up to our soul, rather we bring our newly cleansed and clarified soul and vision back down into our body. We are meant to ask ourselves the question: “Now that I went through the ten days of repentance, how can I bring that down into my day to day life – to live as an expression of my deepest self?” The answer to that question is in the Sukkah.
The sukkah is a place where everything we do from eating and drinking to sleeping and shmoozing becomes elevated and sanctified because it’s being done within the context of a mitzvah, a divine commandment. The mitzvah of living in the sukkah affords us the opportunity to see what life would be like if everything we did was connected with true depth, beauty and meaning.
The Torah teaches us that to truly be a holy person, we need not run away from the world and up towards the soul, rather we must grab the world with all of its glory, identify and fill it with the majesty of our own unique divinity. This Sukkot, let us take the time to remember how high we reached on Yom Kippur and find many ways to channel those moments into our day to day lives and elevate even the little things.
Adapted from Succos Inspired: Discovering depth, joy and meaning.
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