The world, it seems, is a terrible place. The Middle East is in turmoil, with ISIS gaining ground and Iran becoming an increasingly greater power on the world stage. In our own communities, we know of crises and struggles, both as a general matter and for almost every individual in his or her private life. With the world in turmoil, it seems like there is nothing we can do to survive.
And there really isn’t. There isn’t anything we can do. But as the famous Gemara at the end of Sotah (49b) says: “V’al mah yesh lanu l’hisha’en? Al Avinu she’ba’Shamayim. — On what can we rely? On our Father in Heaven.” This isn’t an expression of conceding defeat to circumstance, but rather a directive. If we are to survive these times, our only recourse is to bring ourselves as close as possible to Hakadosh Baruch Hu.
This is especially important to remember over the Yom Tov of Sukkos, where we leave our homes to place ourselves entirely b’tzila d’hemnusa. The essence of Sukkos, as explained by the sefarim hakedoshim and the baalei mussar, is dveikus — the ultimate closeness to Hashem.
This is all well and nice, but this closeness doesn’t happen on its own. There’s a process we go through, and that process is necessary to get the closeness we want and need, the closeness that culminates with Shemini Atzeres/Simchas Torah, when Hashem tells us (Sukkos 55b) that He doesn’t want anything other than to spend time with us. It’s something that starts all the way back in the Three Weeks.
The connection between the telas d’puranusa, sheva d’nechemta and tarti d’tiyuvta which are referred to as a set, can be hard to understand. What do the weeks in which we mourn the Churban Bayis have to do with the Yamim Nora’im? The answer can be found at the end of Eichah. We say (Eichah 5:22): “For even if you have utterly rejected us, you have already been angry enough at us.” Harav Feivel Cohen, shlita, explains in Why We Weep that this is meant to express our lack of comprehension as to why we have suffered so much, not a grievance, chas v’shalom. The answer to that, he explains, is teshuvah — a real introspection of (Eichah 3:40) “let us search our ways and investigate them, and return to Hashem.”
To fathom the effects of the Churban inspires us to take stock and to realize that we need to do teshuvah. So we ask Hashem, “Hashiveinu Hashem eilecha v’nashuvah.” We need Hashem to help us return to Him. And so we begin the days of “Dirshu Hashem b’himatzo kera’uhu bihyoso karov,” as explained in Rosh Hashanah (18a) as referring to Elul and the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah.
Harav Yitzchok Hutner, zt”l (Pachad Yitzchak, Yom Kippur, Maamar 1), expounds upon what exactly it is that makes Yom Kippur unique. It is, he explains, that which Rabbeinu Yonah says (Shaarei Teshuvah 2:14): that it has a special mitzvah of teshuvah which we learn from “lifnei Hashem tit’haru.” This teshuvah, as the Maharal explains in Nesivos Olam, has a special quality — that of “v’nakeh,” which he explains means a complete obliteration of our aveiros so that we are returned to the madreigah we were on before we committed them. It wipes the slate clean — and that allows us to be completely purified; a fulfillment of “tit’haru.”
This is important, as the Shem MiShmuel (Rosh Hashanah 5671) brings from the Zohar, because we can only draw close to Hakadosh Baruch Hu if we have already been purified of our aveiros.
And that is what Sukkos is all about. In the Siddur HaGra, the Siach Yitzchak explains that when we say in the Yom Tov davening “Atah vechartanu mikol ha’amim, ahavta osanu v’ratzisa banu,” it corresponds with the Shalosh Regalim. Pesach is referred to by Atah vechartanu — which is Yetzias Mitzrayim; Shavuos by ahavta osanu — which is Mattan Torah; and v’ratzisa banu is Sukkos — which is about the acceptance Hashem had for our teshuvah after the chet ha’egel. This is why, he writes, Sukkos has a special simchah that is more than the rest of the Chaggim.
Perhaps that is one of the reasons it is important, as is brought in Yalkut Shimoni (651), that from Yom Kippur to Sukkos “all of Klal Yisrael is busy doing mitzvos; this one is busy with his sukkah, and this one is busy with his lulav.” We are still in the middle of the process that started almost three months earlier, a process of getting closer to Hashem, which is only possible through the gift of teshuvah and Yom Kippur.
And then we enter into Sukkos (the culmination of which is the Seudah Ketanah of Shemini Atzeres) — which is not merely a Yom Tov that happens to be right after Yom Kippur. Sukkos occurs when it does in order to maximize this special closeness to Hashem — and that is only possible after the “tit’haru” of Yom Kippur. The teshuvah of Yom Kippur is only possible after the closeness associated with the Malchus of Rosh Hashanah, which we could only come to after the understanding we obtain by mourning all that we’ve lost and our dreadful situation in galus.
Capitalizing on this gift from Hakadosh Baruch Hu is important. We often ask how we can grow closer to the One Above to the degree we really would like. If we make the most of the opportunities presented to us, not only might we benefit as much as possible on Yom Tov, but we may just be left better equipped to deal with galus even when Yom Tov is long past.