Sukkot: The Strength to Emerge

Four days after Yom Kippur we take our show on the road. We emerge from our synagogue and home and go out to the Sukkah (outdoor hut covered in foliage). To come out means to emerge from the doors that enclose us and the locks that hold us back. To emerge means to be free from handicap and limitation–free to fulfill every aspect of our potential with nary restriction nor restraint.
We are born with vast potential. Fortunate are those who maximize their potential. Most of us lock away the lion share of our potential behind self-made gates. We put up these gates for a variety of reasons, primary among them is our fear of danger.
Our brains are hardwired to protect against danger. When we are hurt, we learn our lesson and never expose ourselves again. If we step out barefoot and burn our feet on the concrete, we make sure to wear shoes the next time. If we eat something that doesn’t agree with us, we grow wary of eating that dish again.
There are physical dangers and there are emotional dangers. We know how to protect against physical danger. If a burly man is coming down the street waving a gun, we know to take cover. The emotional dangers are much more nuanced. When we experience ridicule, when we are mocked and dismissed, we develop an unconscious fear of speaking out. When we are job hunting and are turned down one too many times, we develop a fear of rejection and avoid the next interview.
We we know we need the work and we know we would be good at it, but we give the nod to fear over promise. This is because we have a negativity bias. We are more inclined to protect ourselves against the negative than to court the positive. We know that we can survive without an infusion of positivity, but we doubt we can survive an onslaught of negativity.
Thus we lock ourselves in a cocoon and don’t want to come out. Over time we come to believe that we really are inept. This too is a protective mechanism. It is easier to justify our inaction by claiming inability than to admit insecurity. So we tell ourselves that we are unable rather than tell ourselves that we are un-empowered, and with time we come to believe the lie.
Yom Kippur - G-d Believes
We believe the sad narrative and cheat ourselves out of a life until someone comes around and professes belief in us. When a special someone comes along and whispers words of faith in our ears and words of confidence in our hearts, we emerge from our cocoon and our old faith awakens. When someone else sees in us what we have long stopped seeing in ourselves, it all comes back in a rush.
Yom Kippur is the day when G-d demonstrates love and faith in us. We usually think of it as the day when we declare our faith in G-d. But the deeper message of Yom Kippur is G-d’s faith in us. G-d knows the score perfectly, yet He takes a chance and forgives us each year. He forgave us last year and we reverted to sin. He did the same the year before and the year before that. But G-d forgives us again. And not because we won’t revert, but because we are capable of not reverting.
We might indeed revert and if we will, then G-d would know it in advance. And despite that knowledge, He forgave us. This is His immense vote of confidence in us. I will treat you according to your potential, not according to your current state. When we realize how much G-d sees in us, we begin to see it too. When another sings our praises, we come to believe it too.
Good for Us
Toward the end of Yom Kippur, we chant a prayer that highlights our individual value before G-d. As the sun sets and the day wanes we plead with G-d, “The heavenly gates, for us, please open, and your treasures that are good for us please open.” There are two ways to read this prayer. One is to place the comma after the word good, which means, your good treasures, please open for us. The other is to place the comma after the word us, which means the treasures that are good for us, please open.
The latter is the correct way. G-d does not have generic treasures to which we must all adapt. G-d has individual treasure packets for each of us. What is good for me is not necessarily good for you and vice versa. We ask G-d to open for us each individually, the treasures that are good for us.
One of the many aspects of this personal treasure is our knowledge of and confidence in our individual strengths. Give me the ability, we ask, to discover my hidden treasures–the ones I have buried under layers of doubt and insecurity.
And when we entreat G-d to open our treasures, He does.
This is why we emerge from the home after Yom Kippur and enter the Sukkah. The Sukkah, the only Mitzvah that encompasses us completely, represents a Divine embrace. We emerge from insecurity and fear, and march into an embrace of Divine confidence and love. We emerge from our barriers, from behind closed and locked doors, expose ourselves without fear, and return G-d’s uplifting hug.
Indeed, it is a requirement that the stars be visible through the foliage of the Sukkah’s roof. Once we emerge from Yom Kippur and enter the Sukkah, the sky is the limit