“Yom Kippur: A Prelude to the Festival of Sukkot”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

The four days between Yom Kippur and the festival of Sukkot are important transitional days. As often occurs, the parasha that precedes or follows a Jewish holiday often dovetails thematically with the upcoming or recently passed festival. This week’s parasha, Haazinu, is no exception.

Just as we dramatically concluded the Yom Kippur services with the words of the Shema and calling out responsively with the cantor seven times, “Hashem Hoo ha’ Eh’lo’him” the L-rd is G-d, so do we read the dramatic proclamation in parashat Ha’azinu, Deuteronomy 32:3, “Kee shaym Hashem ek’rah hah’voo goh’del lay’lo’hay’noo,” I call out the name of G-d and ascribe greatness to the Al-mighty!

This is immediately followed in the biblical text (Deuteronomy 32:4) by a reaffirmation of G-d’s perfection: “Ha’tzoor tah’meem paw’ah’loh kee chol d’rah’chav mish’paht, Ayl Eh’moo’nah v’ayn ah’vel, tzaddik v’yashar hoo,” The rock, His work is perfect, for all His paths are just. A G-d of faith without iniquity, righteous and fair is He. How uniquely this pronouncement segues with the people’s feelings of gratitude toward the Omnipotent G-d who has just forgiven all their transgressions.

The scriptural text then focuses on how G-d cares for His children, the People of Israel. It resonates with the theme of Sukkot: He is our Father, our Master, He created us and shaped us. It was G-d who encircled us, and preserved us like the pupil of His eye. He was like an eagle arousing its nest, hovering over its young, spreading its wings and taking them, transporting them on His pinions. It was G-d alone who guided His people, providing them with honey from the stone and oil from the flinty rock.

Rabbi Shimshon Dovid Pincus, in his Tiferet Shimshon, makes a profound observation about the nature of the four days between Yom Kippur and the festival of Sukkot by presenting a real-life parallel:

As is often the practice, in order to enhance the joy of a festival, parents purchase new clothes for their children to wear for the upcoming holiday. When children dress in their new clothes for the holiday for the first time, the admiring parents look at them with pride. However, before allowing their children to go out with their new clothes, parents often admonish their children to be careful with the new clothes. “Don’t get them dirty,” they say, “and make certain not to tear them. Remember they are for the holiday.”

During the Ten Days of Penitence, from Rosh Hashana until Yom Kippur, Jews pray for forgiveness, calling out to G-d numerous times, beseeching Him to regard His people with His abundant attributes of mercy when judging them.

At the conclusion of the Days of Penitence, on Yom Kippur, a new day dawns and a new world comes into existence. A wonderous transformation has occurred, a miracle perhaps greater than the great splitting of the Red Sea. The slates of the people of Israel have been wiped clean. In effect, a repeat of what occurred over three millennia ago has happened again. When Moses broke the tablets because of the sin of the Golden Calf, there was no other recourse but to give the Torah anew, which took place forty days later, on Yom Kippur. The nation to whom the Al-mighty had given the Torah was transformed into a new, repentant nation. Yom Kippur became a day of new creation, and, since that Yom Kippur, G-d proclaims to His people at the conclusion of every Yom Kippur, “You have received a new soul, a clean soul, a new body, a clean body. I beg of you, do not dirty them.”

The new “clothes” that we have received from the Al-mighty on Yom Kippur are intended specifically for the holiday of Sukkot. But how do we keep them clean?

Until now, the Jewish people were preoccupied with Days of Awe. During the Ten Days of Penitence, from Rosh Hashana through Yom Kippur, Jews throughout the world shuddered in reverence and in fear of G-d, but now those fearsome days have concluded and the days of “love” begin. Through Divine mercy the Jewish people have been allowed to recreate themselves, so that they could fully express and appreciate the Divine love that permeates the holiday of Sukkot.

But, it all depends on the four days between Yom Kippur and Sukkot. It is now the people’s responsibility to watch their new gift–those new clothes–carefully. The Midrash Tanchumah on Leviticus 22 maintains that these four days are special. Commenting on the verse in Leviticus 23:40, which refers to the taking of the four species, “Oo’l’kach’tem la’chem ba’yom ha’ree’shohn,” And you shall take for yourselves [the four species] on the first day, the Midrash asks: Is it truly the first day? Sukkot is the fifteenth day of Tishrei, and you say the first day? Rather, it is the first day for “Cheshbon Avonot,” for the accounting of sins. According to tradition, these four days are an extension of the High Holidays, but, hopefully, because it is a time when Israel is preoccupied with the mitzvot, preparing a Sukkah and assembling the Lulav species (Leviticus Rabbah 30:7), the people are entirely free from sin.

During these four days, G-d watches over our new clothes, until the commencement of the festival of Sukkot. On the festival of Sukkot we meet seven noble guests: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron and David. In order to merit to celebrate in the presence of these great guests, we need to make certain that we keep our souls and our bodies holy and pure.

Thanks to the special preparations of Yom Kippur, and the Divine providence that guards us during the four days between Yom Kippur and Sukkot, we enter the rickety Sukkah on this festival with a sense of confidence and security, knowing that we are entirely in G-d’s protective embrace. His wings encircle us, shielding us from all evil. Nothing could be better, nothing could be sweeter. This is the joy of Sukkot, the “Festival of Joy,” that we will soon be celebrating.

May you be blessed.

The first days of Sukkot will be observed this year on Sunday evening and all day Monday and Tuesday, September 30th, October 1st and 2nd, 2012. The intermediate days (Chol HaMoed) are observed through Sunday, Hoshana Rabbah, October 7th. On Sunday evening, the festival of Shemini Atzeret commences, and is celebrated on Monday, October 8th. The final day of the festival, Simchat Torah, begins on Monday evening, October 8th and continues through Tuesday, October 9th.

Wishing you a wonderfully joyous holiday.