We are traveling from the mental to the physical. We have just passed through the introspective self-reflection of Yom Kippur, spending all day fasting and reciting pensive prayers and meditations, only to emerge spiritually transformed. The spiritual journey complete, we now embark upon the strenuous labor of constructing a sukkah.
On Yom Kippur, we repent. Sitting, standing, we pray, we meditate, we fast, we listen, we speak, we chant. We push aside our worldly commitments and dedicate our day to turning round and round our memories, our decisions, our thoughts. We beseech the Eternal that the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts are acceptable. We seek forgiveness, pardon, and atonement, and desire to be sealed in the Book of Life for a good year.
As the day of atonement draws to a close, we recite the words of Havdalah. We peel away the cocoon of our thoughts, rise from our seat, break from our fast, and ebb back into the world like sunlight’s return in an eclipse ending, the moon sliding past the sun.
Five days later, we shall dwell in booths, that our generation may know that the Children of Israel were made to dwell in booths when the Eternal brought them out of the land of Egypt. The booths – the sukkot – must be built in the interval. They must be temporary structures of about two-and-a-half walls, with a roof that provides shade, yet still lets the occupants see the stars above.
There is no experience so diametrically contrasting to praying on Yom Kippur as constructing a sukkah. Building the booth, we’re outside, as a team, working with our hands, driving nails into lumber, shouting instructions, sharing tools and supplies, making something. On Yom Kippur, we atone. The day after, we create.
In this season of Sukkot, we are commanded to rejoice. God hallows us with mitzvot, commanding us to dwell in the sukkah. Commanding us to take up the lulav. The Sovereign has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this day. We gather, we share meals, we celebrate.
Our spirits repair themselves on Yom Kippur. Our bodies, on Sukkot. We have made it to the new year.