I gave this drash (teaching) in October 2011 / 5772 at Temple Shir Tikvah in Winchester, MA and am reposting here to share again…
The holiday of Sukkot also goes by another name: Zman Simchateinu.
The time of our rejoicing. This name comes from the verse in Deuteronomy, “V’samachta b’chagecha v’hayita ach same’ach” You shall rejoice on your festivals , and you shall be fully joyous. Is it not enough to be joyous – not enough to be sameach but we should be “ach sameach.” And so, I began to ponder what this means.
There are plenty of things that I enjoy about sukkot – but in thinking about what it means to call this time Zman Simchateinu, I did a kind of rabbinic thing which is to think about another usage of the word simcha and see if it might shed some light here. There are many other discussions of what simcha refers to in the context of sukkot, but I have to admit, my mind went to an entirely different context. I immediately thought of how in Judaism we call our life cycle events simchas.
Think for a moment about the last simcha you went to – was it a wedding, or a bar or bat mitzvah, or was it a bris or baby naming. I was at a bris the morning of Erev Rosh Hashanah. And like all of the brises and weddings and life cycle events I’ve been to –there was a deep, soulful, transformative joy. There were moments of anticipation even trepidation, and excitement. There was a time in which everyone held their breath, then tears and laughter, and then a full awareness that love and commitment and covenant takes a real leap of faith. And then there was a palpable transition into sheer happiness, relief, and celebration.
Those simchas are some of the most intense transitional moments I have ever witnessed. And so perhaps to be “ach sameach” is to simply to allow ourselves to feel ALL of those emotions and all of those feelings that are truly present in joy. To really experience deep and profound joy there is almost always risk and vulnerability involved. That is what the sukkah reminds us of. And there is where we find God’s sheltering presence, the sukkat shalom.
The image of the sukkah harkens back to the temporary encampments that the Israelites built in the desert. I cannot help but also think of the tent city downtown at Occupy Boston. And I am also thinking of 2 images of Jerusalem –the temporary sukkot that fill back yards and apartment balconies, as well as the tents of the family members and supporters of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit who had been camped out in front of the Prime Minister’s residence for years urging the negotiation for his return. As you may have heard, the world is waiting with bated breath for his release expected next week.
And I imagine all of them are “ach sameach” in their tents — with hope, fear, and deep faith.
The sukkah we build every year for Sukkot reminds us of the joy we experience at those simchas – at some of the most powerful times in our lives.
And we also feel that sense of joy a little every day. It is the sense of truly being alive. It is such a powerful feeling, which is why we ask for God’s protection over us every night –in Hashkiveinu we literally ask for God’s sukkat shalom to be spread over us.
I bless us all to know the feeling of God’s sheltering presence in our moments of being “ach sameach.”
Chag Sukkot Sameach