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The Torah calls Sukkot the “season of our rejoicing.” But this is strange. For a week, we leave the comfort of our homes and live in huts open to the sky and cold and rain, with only a covering of leaves as a roof. Why is sitting in the cold with no roof over our heads called the festival of joy?
The message of Sukkot is to know that life is full of risk and yet to cherish it regardless, to sense the insecurity of the human situation and still be able to celebrate knowing that G-d is with us, giving us the strength to meet any challenge — this is the truth we live on Sukkot.
It's the courage to celebrate in the midst of uncertainty. To be able to sit in the sukkah, exposed to the wind and rain, and yet sing despite it all, in joy and celebration.
During the High Holy Days, each of us wrestles against our own Yetzer Hara, our evil inclination. We struggle against sin, indifference, and insensitivity, resolving to be better. Sometimes, we overcome these weaknesses, but sometimes, they get the better of us and wrestle us into submission against our better judgement.
When it is all over, how do we know whether we have won?
A short time after the High Holy Days, on Sukkot, the victorious Jew enters the synagogue, crowned with the “wreath,” one of the plants that make up the lulav. The lulav, the wreath, is our victor’s crown. Therefore, if we celebrate Sukkot, then we have won the battle by continuing Jewish practices into the new year.
America cheers for winners, but gives a standing ovation to people of integrity.
At times, Jews have thought that in order to be accepted in society, you should downplay your Jewishness in order to better fit in, to become more like the crowd. But Yossi reminds us this is not so. Non-Jews admire Jews who admire Judaism.
We can move the heart of this country if we are true to our authentic selves, and everyone responds when we demonstrate the moral courage to be ourselves. Others can feel empowered and emboldened by our pride.