Turning Fasting Into Feasting
Rabbi Cassi Kail
Just five days separate Yom Kippur and Sukkot, and yet they seem light years apart.
In less than a week we move from fast to feast, and from confronting our mortality to celebrating our lives. Whereas on Yom Kippur we stand in the security of our sanctuary, prayer book in hand, on Sukkot we dwell within an impermanent structure shaking a lulav and etrog in all directions. Yom Kippur is a day of words; Sukkot is a holiday of actions.
Although on the surface these two holidays appear to have little in common, the Jewish calendar reminds us that they are inexorably linked. This connection is so profound that many Jews place the first nails in the sukkah just moments after breaking their Yom Kippur fast. Another tradition instructs us to construct the sukkah the morning after Yom Kippur. Either way, the message is clear – we should not delay this mitzvah a minute more than necessary.
The Rabbis teach us that Moses brought down the Ten Commandments from Mount Sinai on Yom Kippur. This proved that God had forgiven the Jewish people for the sin of the golden calf. The very next morning, Moses assembled the community so that they could begin building a portable sanctuary called the Mishkan in which God dwells. Similarly, after completing our observance of Yom Kippur, we build our sukkah in which we dwell for an entire week.
Yom Kippur and Sukkot are related in date and Biblical chronology. Their strongest connection, however, is an emotional one. On Yom Kippur we refrain from eating, drinking, and bathing. We spend the entire day standing before God, rehearsing our deaths, and coming face to face with our mortality. We wake up to the fragility of life, acknowledging that there is so much in this world outside of our control. On Sukkot we relinquish our false sense of control, embracing the fragile borders of our sukkah as a dwelling place. Beneath it we are not protected from rain or wind. We are not protected from life’s storms. In his book This is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared, Rabbi Alan Lew says, “In the sukkah, a house that is open to the world, a house that freely acknowledges that it cannot be the basis of our security, we let go of this need. The illusion of protection falls away, and suddenly we are flush with our life, feeling our life, following our life, doing its dance, one step after another.”
On Yom Kippur we are awakened to the world as it is – delicate, precious, unpredictable, and majestic. On Sukkot we are filled with joy because we are alive and are grateful for the many blessings in our lives. In just five days, we move from mourning to dancing, vulnerability to courage, and from words into action. Sukkot is the natural extension of Yom Kippur, enabling the High Holy Day’s teachings to inspire us to be our best selves, all year long.