Sukkot is a yom tov that focuses on the idea of home.
We dwell in a sukkah, which serves as a substitute home. We leave our house our permanent abode and reside for one week in the sukkah, a temporary abode. We leave that sense of security that four firm walls and a firm roof provide to dwell in a flimsy hut which provides no real protection from the elements. In this way, we remember the Clouds of Divine Glory that guarded us from the scorching sun and howling wind of the wilderness, and come to understand that, ultimately, it is God who protects us.
It is this realization that we take back with us into our homes after Sukkot, so that we can lead a life that is secure and successful, with a deep knowing that God is in our lives, making our success and flourishing possible.
This is only possible because we have a permanent home to return to. If we only dwelled in a sukkah, we would be too concerned with our security and safety to see in it any religious meaning or to achieve and accomplish in the world.
This home/away-from-home dialectic is central to Sukkot. The Torah underscores that Sukkot is a holiday of joy: “And you shall rejoin on your holiday… and you shall be only joyful” (Deut. 16:16-17). It is at this time of the year that we feel tremendous joy when, after many months of hard work in the fields, we are able to bring the fruits of our labor into our homes. The Torah tells us: Take that joy and bring it to Jerusalem and to the Temple, and rejoice before God for seven days.
This national jubilation takes place outside the home in Jerusalem, but its very source is rooted in the home you left behind. You have a place and land that you can call your own, that you can till and work and harvest its product. You have a home that is the source of your livelihood and your anchor in society. What allows for the experience outside of the home is the anchoring in the home, and the knowing that you will go back to it and to the security it provides.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic we have had a lot–maybe too much–of being at home, and far too little of sukkah-like, out-of-home opportunities and experiences. To some degree, this lack of being away from our home diminishes our own valuing of being at home. We need to return to our homes after being away to feel and appreciate what it means to have a home. As the author Wendy Wunder said: “The magic thing about home is that it feels good to leave, and feels even better to come back.” A home allows you to travel in the wide world knowing that wherever you may roam, you will always have a place to which to return.
My prayer for all of us for this coming year is that we are able to experience the balance of the permanent and the temporary, of more opportunities to leave, to travel, to explore, to spend time outside of the home, more opportunities to have a home to which we will return. I wish for all of us that we grow to appreciate the security and anchoring that our homes afford and the realization that wherever we are, in our homes or a hotel, in a tent or in a sukkah, it is God that supports us and enables us to succeed.
Chag Sukkot Sameach.