“‘So beginning with the fifteenth day of the seventh month, after you have gathered the crops of the land, celebrate the festival to the LORD for seven days; the first day is a day of Sabbath rest, and the eighth day also is a day of Sabbath rest.’” — Leviticus 23:39
Jews around the world will observe Sukkot this week. In contrast to the solemnity of the High Holy Days, Sukkot is one of Judaism’s most joyous holidays, focusing on thanksgiving and gratitude.
Every Jewish holiday has its own special spiritual energy. Passover is known as “the time of freedom,” while Shavuot is called “the time of the giving of the Torah.” Each year on these holidays we can taste freedom anew or receive God’s Word as if for the first time. On Sukkot, The Feast of Tabernacles, we celebrate “the time of joy,” as we read in the Scriptures, “. . . and rejoice before the LORD your God for seven days.”
So what is the joy of Sukkot, and how can we attain it?
The simplest explanation is that Sukkot occurs during the harvest season. It’s time to reap our harvest, the fruit of our labor, and enjoy it. However, the Jewish sages also give the following explanation: This time of joy is about the joy of time. In other words, joy comes from having time – time to be with God and with our loved ones.
A friend of mine works with young women in Israel who have gotten lost in life, made poor decisions, and gone through difficult situations. This program helps rehabilitate them. What’s interesting is that most of the women who my friend meets in the program all come from good families. They were given everything – their own room, their own computer, a car at 17. However, there is one thing that these women didn’t get from their parents and that was time with them.
When there is no time with our loved ones, there is no joy.
On Sukkot, God calls us to live in the sukkah, a temporary hut, for seven days. We live outside, away from all the distractions of life, and spend time with God, friends, and family. The sukkah itself is likened to one big hug from our Heavenly Father. As we sit inside the sukkah, in God’s loving embrace, we also embrace each other. We give each other the gift of time, the present of our presence.
Recently, a story was going around the Internet that probably isn’t true, but its message is. A little boy wanted to know how much his father earned per hour. The father told his son that he makes $100 an hour. The little boy then asked his father to borrow $50. As the father ultimately discovered, his son put away the $50, trying to save up enough money so that he could buy an hour of his father’s time! Needless to say, the father reassessed his priorities immediately.
That’s what the season of Sukkot helps us to remember — to slow down and make space for what matters most. This week, let us make it a priority to spend some meaningful time with God, with family, with old friends, and maybe with some new ones. There is no greater joy!
Yael Eckstein is president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.