2003About the holiday of Sukkot the Torah writes (Lev. 23:39) "But in the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the fruit of the land, you shall keep a feast to the Lord seven days; on the first day shall be a sabbath, and on the eighth day shall be a sabbath. And you shall take for yourselves on the first day the fruit of a beautiful tree, date branches, a branch of a leafy tree, and willows of the brook and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days."
Sukkot: The Other Yom Kippur
The following Midrash is quite perplexed by the Torah's use of the term "first day."
Midrash Tanchumah, Emor 22
"Why is it called the first day, indeed its actually the 15th day of the month. Rather the verse refers to the first day of Sukkot as the 'first day' because it is the first day of the counting of sins...On Yom Kippur the whole people fast and pray...on the first day of sukkot (four days after Yom Kippur) the people take their lulovs and dance in praise before God. Then God forgives them, and says I will erase all your previous sins and start counting new sins from this day forward. Therefore does the Torah call the first day of Sukkot the 'first day', because it is the first day of the counting of sins."
Your Midrash Navigator
1. This Midrash seems to extend the Yom Kippur process into the first day of Sukkot. What do you make of the Midrash's image of the Jews rejoicing before God with heir lulovs as a moment of forgiveness that even Yom Kippur itself could not create?
2. Have you ever felt that Yom Kippur and Sukkot were linked? Why or why not?
3. How is Sukkot similar to Yom Kippur? How is it different?
4. In the holiday prayer service Sukkot is called, "yom simchatanu" "the day of our joy", Yom Kippur is called in the Talmud "Yom Kippurim" literally, "The day like Purim." How is joy central to both Sukkot and Yom Kippur?
Yom Kippur is a day during which we reestablish our relationship with God in a very deep way. This linking with the Infinite gives us a deep and ultimate joy, but when Yom Kippur ends and we are no longer fasting and praying it becomes hard to retain our level of devotion and spirituality. Four days latter, on Sukkot, we take the deep relationship we forged with God and bring it into the real world. Our intimate relationship with the Spiritual and with God is now strengthened and our joy emerges from it, not from our physical comfort and protection. We enter the holy but tenuous structure and no longer need our big house, TV, or furniture. In the sukkah there is an intimacy with God that keeps us joyous. It is a real world intimacy which requires no praying and fasting, no big synagogue and no fancy house; just our soul, our people, our Divine relationship and our true selves. True joy.
Prepared by Rabbi Hyim Shafner, campus rabbi, St. Louis Hillel at Washington University.