Have you ever observed a young child falling and scraping a knee, or banging an elbow, and somehow a hug made it feel better? At any age, a hug can heal wounds and fill a void like no words can. It is the ultimate form of comfort, giving a sense of security and love in an unsteady world.
The sense for the month of Sukkot is חוש המישוש, the sense of touch which provides warmth and comfort (Bnei Yissaschar). The sukkah itself is a hug from Hashem. When looking at the cycle of the Jewish year, Sukkot and Pesach are two anchors, precisely 6 months apart, parallel to one another in time and in spirit. The Passover holiday, balanced halfway around the calendar, is found in Nissan, the month of speech (Bnei Yissaschar). It’s when we commemorate the striking ten plagues and Israel exclaiming by the Song of the Sea “this is my God!” Pesach is a time bursting with unmistakable emunah, when our belief in God intimately and gloriously involved in our lives is apparent. While on Sukkot we sit, eat and sleep in a sukkah (not necessarily so gloriously) and try to feel the silent hug of God.
In Shir HaShirim (2:6) it says “His left arm lay under my head and His right arm embraces me.” The left arm of judgment represents the Yamim Noraim, while the right hand of kindness represents Sukkot. The Arizal explains that the halakhick minimum requirements for the walls of a sukkah, which are two walls and a small section of a third wall, are precisely illustrated by the image of a one-armed hug – the shoulder to elbow is one wall, the elbow bent at ninety degrees until the wrist forms a second wall, and a bent wrist to the fingertips forms the third “bit” of wall (see Pri Eitz Chaim, Gate of Sukkot). This kabbalistic notion demonstrates how the walls of the sukkah create a physical manifestation of a right-armed embrace from the Almighty.
Sometimes we are blessed to experience God’s nearness as bright and brilliant as the unmistakable hand of God which led us out of Egypt. However, there are innumerable times where we experience God in the subtlety of our lives. Just as we dwell under the schach which covers the sukkah and must provide more shade than light, we cling to God in times of distress and heartache in the צלא דמהימנותא – “shade of emunah” – which is the Kabbalistic term for Sukkot. In the mundane and within the pain, we seek to remind ourselves that we are embraced by God. According to Bnei Yissaschar (Tishrei 9:2) Sukkot is called “Chag,” stemming from the phrase “ub’mechogah yeta’arehu,” (Yishayahu 44:13) meaning the circle which surrounds. An embrace.
Similarly, another name for Chag Sukkot is Chag Ha’asif, simply understood for the agricultural holiday where we have finished gathering our crops. After the intensity of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Sukkot is known as a holiday of love and intimacy with our Creator where we ourselves are “gathered in,” just as we gather the 4 species, to be strengthened. The word Sukkah, in Hebrew, can be understood as an acronym describing God who supports and lifts up all who stumble-
סוכה- סומך ועוזר כל הנופלים (בני יששכר תשרי 10:4).
We all stumble in our faith in God, in ourselves, in humanity at different times. However unyielding our emunah, it has different seasons in our lives. There are times where we feel God’s presence shining upon us (Yishayahu 60:1) much as we aspire to experience on Seder night as we welcome the surge and spring in our step. And to the contrary, there are times when we may question God’s involvement in our lives, in my distress I call to God and He answered me (Psalms 120:1) My God, why have You forsaken me? Why have You abandoned me? (Psalms 22: 2-3). There are seasons where we fall and falter.
Life may feel fleeting and unsteady, much like the temporary dwelling of the sukkah, as we aptly read the book of Kohelet in search of meaning, asking “What do we gain from all of our effort?” (1:3). The holiday of Sukkot has the power to give us a boost of emunah for the entire year (Netivot Shalom) to help us be more attuned to sensing the Divine amidst the mundane. On the days when we feel a bit battered or despondent, when there is more darkness than there is light, you feel like you’ve banged your elbow and scraped your knee, remember that “His right arm embraces” (Song of Songs 2:6, 8:3) you. Because words are wearying (Kohelet 1:8) and we all just need a hug sometimes. And that’s OK.