How to take advantage of Sukkos to come close to Hashem and those around us.
It’s been an awe inspiring Yamim Noraim, replete with mindful soul searching and dedicated self-improvement. We’ve made ourselves vulnerable, we’ve shed our facade, and we’ve dug deep within in our quest to perfect ourselves and come closer to our Creator. We’ve weakened the barriers that separate us from our Father, from each other, from ourselves, and now, on Sukkos, those barriers come down.
We leave our home, eschewing the gashmiyus it represents and join Hashem in His home, the humble, yet holy, sukkah. All barriers are down as we step out of the walls that come between us.
And perhaps, there is another symbolic breaking of the barriers. On Simchas Torah, we circle the bimah seven times, giving ourselves up completely to Hashem and His Torah. Much like the battle of Yericho, where Klal Yisroel circled the city seven times on the seventh day, before blowing the shofar that brought the walls down. And much like the chuppah, when a kallah circles her husband seven times, cementing her commitment to him and bringing down barriers, entering a world with just the two of them and nothing in between them.
When Sukkos ends, we begin a stretch of long winter months without the constant excitement and elevation of Tishrei. When we do Sukkos right, we can actually bring all of the growth and all of the inspiration of the Yomim Noraim into the winter ahead. We can stay elevated and inspired when we use this time to bring down the barriers that hold us back from shleimus by fusing the awe and fear of the Yom Hadin and Yom Hakippurim with the joy of Zman Simchaseinu.
There are numerous ways barriers can manifest themselves in our lives, and it will look different for every individual. Here are some ways you can work to bring down those barriers over Sukkos, in the three major categories: Barriers between us and Hashem, between us and ourselves and between us and our fellow man.
Between Man and Hashem
Sukkos is the longest stretch of Yom Tov we have when you include Shmini Atzeres and yet, it goes by so quickly, just like any other one. Try to capture some time during this beautiful, hectic week to lean into your connection with Hashem.
One advantage of Sukkos is that it comes right on the heels of such an intense period of tefillah and teshuvah. Our relationship with Hashem is stronger; it’s been on our mind for a few weeks already. Leaning into that connection might come more naturally now that you have worked on connecting. And yet, there’s always more to improve. In order to remove the barriers, first identify what those barriers are. Without the intensity of Yom Hadin propelling self-improvement, without the aimas hadin, the fear and the trepidation that make it almost automatic that we come closer to Hashem, we can now examine that relationship in a more relaxed manner and come closer to Him through joy.
Steal a few moments during this hectic yom tov and sit by yourself in the sukkah. Feel yourself surrounded by His presence, enveloped in His love as you sit in His home. Talk to Him. Out loud, if you dare, or if you are not as brave (or insane, however you choose to look at it) as some of us, just speak to Him in your heart, like a daughter to her Father.
Tell Him your fears and your cares, verbalize what roadblocks, if any, stand in the way of the deeply close relationship you crave.
Sing as much as you can, under your breath in the sukkah, inside your heart in shul if you make it there, aloud in your living room as you daven Hallel, so that you can use the powerful medium of song to break down those barriers.
Sing to your children or sing to yourself the special songs of yom tov: “V’samachta B’chagecha,”
“Atah Bechartanu,” etc. Reflect on the words as you sing.
Harness this power on Simchas Torah as well, allowing the joy of the Torah to infiltrate your bones and bring you closer to the One who bestowed this precious gift upon us.
Focus on the words of the brachos you say every day of Sukkos, “Asher kidishanu b’mitzvosav v’tzivanu.” He has sanctified us, made us holy. When you are mindful of those words, you can feel the kedushah seep into your bones and elevate you to a greater level of closeness and awareness. When you lift your lulav and shake it upward, imagine those are your hands, reaching upward, striving toward the shamayim, seeking out a relationship.
Remember that a relationship can’t exist on rules and regulations alone. A relationship is fueled by feeling and emotion. Emotion is what we women excel at, and this yom tov is all about the emotion of joy. If there are barriers to that joy that are preventing you from getting as close as you would like to your Father, examine them as you work on the barriers between you and yourself, below.
Between Man and Himself
Sometimes, the tallest impenetrable walls we put up are those that separate us from ourselves. We erect barriers that prevent us from being true to ourselves and to who we are and all we can be. We forget our mission and lose sight of where we are headed, why we are doing what we are doing. We move on auto pilot, reactive instead of proactive, as we take each mindless step.
We were granted now the gift of a week to take a step out of the daily grind, to pause during the harvest season and reflect on where it all came from and what our role is amid all our bounty.
And yet, it is precisely at this time, this gift, this blessing, that we are often at our most bitter. Yes, we were blessed, but our blessings are so stressful! Yom tov is so hard! We are on call 24-7, we are overworked, underappreciated, we are tired, haggard and irritable.
This is when we need to take a step back and really get to know ourselves. Pull the curtain away and get to the core of who we are and where we are going. After a day of chasing after wandering children in a crowded chol hamoed attraction, or serving five course seudah after five course seudah while the daughters-in-law put their feet up and schmooze, or whatever our poison may be, take a few moments to reflect:
Who am I?
What am I doing here?
What is the purpose of it all and how can I celebrate this yom tov, and on a more macro level, live my life, in a way that is true to that purpose?
There is a mantra that I like to repeat to myself at a time when life with all of its blessings gets overwhelming. “I’m not stressed; I’m blessed.” Even if I am stressed, it’s a reminder to shift my perspective and focus on what is behind all this stress. Usually, it is a blessing I wouldn’t give up for the world. The stove I slave over is host to the bountiful food with which He has graced us; the children who keep me bleary-eyed and staggering through life are the greatest blessing of all. I am not stressed; I am blessed. Remind yourself of that truism again and again over the course of a blessed, stressful yom tov. Allow yourself the nachas, the joy, and ask yourself what you can do to make it easier.
Do you need to overcome your natural reluctance to ask for help and learn to delegate so that you don’t feel taken advantage of? Do you need to set boundaries, take some time for self-care? Take down those barriers so that you can be true to yourself and figure out how to tap into the beautiful yom tov in a way that rejuvenates and uplifts your spirit.
Between Man and Man
There are so many rifts in Klal Yisroel, so many barriers between brothers, as we look askance at those different than us. But not today. On Sukkos, we gather the arba minim and shake them together, taking every type of Yid and uniting them in our arms. Barriers come down as we sanctify ourselves in bringing those kinds together.
We can do the same in our own Sukkah, using it as a portal to bring together different factions of Klal Yisroel. Invite someone for yom tov who could use the invitation, someone who is not quite like you. Reach out to someone less affiliated if you can, and invite them to bask in the beauty of the sukkah, whether it is for a yom tov, for a seudah, or even a chol hamoed supper.
There is something about sitting in the sukkah, so close to nature, so close to the Source, that brings out the pintele Yid in estranged souls. Allow your children to see that Yidden of all stripes and types are cherished children of Hashem, and even as we stick to our own derech and take pride in our avodas Hashem, we can reach out to and embrace our brethren whose derech may diverge, but who still harbors a Yiddishe neshamah.
And sometimes our harshest barriers are not between those who are different than us, those who are distant, but those who are closest to us. It is so special when families come together for a long yom tov, married siblings squishing into close quarters to spend rare time together, cousins who hardly get to see each other frolic in Bubby’s backyard, while said Bubby sits back and drinks in the incredible Yiddishe nachas. Of course, the reality isn’t always that idyllic. As much as we’ve grown past the sibling rivalry of our youth, there can be scars we take into our adulthood. There are dynamics that might not be so healthy, there is bottled up resentment, inferiority complexes, unnecessary competition that we hold at bay during our day-to-day adulting but that come to the surface when we are thrown together in our childhood home once again. Now is a great time to work on that, to break down those barriers. To accept and embrace the flaws of our family members, to find ways to look past the grievances and annoyances that we cannot change and that create a barrier between us and our loved ones.
Enter your family member’s world, see their struggles and their gifts, look past the little things
that get on your nerves and find ways to connect and relate. In the circle of schmoozers, as the voices get louder and opinions and experiences are thrown out, dissected, and fiercely debated, be the listener, not the talker. Be the soother, not the agitator. Be the doer not the taker. Find ways to be of service instead of taking advantage of the ways others can serve you. Be okay with not proving yourself right, with preserving peace over defending your territory.
Barriers down, we can come closer to Hashem, understand ourselves better, and embrace our fellow man for a beautiful, exalted Sukkos.