Each of the Shalosh Regalim, the three pilgrimage festivals, has a nickname describing a key feature of the holiday. Pesaḥ is Z'man Ḥeruteinu, the time of our freedom. Shavuot is Z'man Matan Torateinu , the time of the giving of our Torah. Sukkot is Z'man Simḥateinu, the time of our joy.
Now, I absolutely love Sukkot - if I had to pick a favorite holiday, it would be Sukkot hands down. I love the smells, from the bright fragrance of the etrog, to the distinctive aroma of freshly cut pine branches (my shul growing up used pine as skhakh and that scent always transports me), to the slightly sweet odor of a lulav past its prime. I love the feeling in the air as the season changes firmly to fall. I enjoy being outdoors, eating long, aimless meals in the sukkah with friends. Sukkot calls up for me so many special memories, memories I savor coming back to year after year, even as I make new ones to accompany them.
But getting to Sukkot....that part's not so easy, not something I savor. Making it through the High Holidays is a huge amount of work (rewarding and meaningful, but emotionally and physically taxing nonetheless). And just when I'm ready to take a few days of rest to regain my energy, there it is. After a paltry four days, it's time for another holiday. And a holiday with a massive amount of preparation and physical labor involved. It's a little bit dizzying. Where's the joy?
Certainly, given what I just said about how much I love the holiday itself, there's joy in celebrating the holiday once it has arrived, at least for me and I hope for you. This year, however, I've been challenging myself to find joy in the preparations as well, in these four jam-packed and slightly stressful days.
I'm writing this message on Wednesday night, after having spent the evening building two different sukkot - our Chevrei Tzedek sukkah and my own sukkah at home (tremendous gratitude to Jeanne and Mali for jumping in and helping me get my sukkah up!). Working to get those sukkot built was absolutely where I found my joy today. The joy of being together with members of our community to help get our shul ready to celebrate. The joy of witnessing folks reminiscing about Sukkot celebrations past and previous sukkah-building experiences. The joy of listening to good music to make the work more pleasant. The joy of seeing a sukkah (2 sukkot!) go from being a pile of poles on the ground to being a dwelling place for us and for God's presence.
And while I still don't know when I'm going to get the grocery shopping done or the food cooked, I do know that the joy I found this evening will help keep me afloat until I figure the rest of it out.
Shabbat Shalom and Ḥag Sameaḥ!