In contemporary Judaism, Sukkot tends to be disentangled from this disturbing apocalyptic element. But recognizing Sukkot's end-of-the-world theme is essential to understanding its place among the High Holidays--this theme actually ties it to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the holidays that immediately precede it on the Jewish calendar. The three festivals form a unit, a dramatically coherent structure, as Jewish law makes clear when it emphasizes the importance of getting to work on building your sukkah just as soon as Yom Kippur is over. The yearly sequence--Rosh Hashanah, then Yom Kippur, then Sukkot--sets out, in miniature, a narrative of the history of mankind.
It is a drama in three acts. First comes the Jewish New Year, commemorating the beginning of God's creation, the conception of the world. Sandwiched in the middle there is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, which stresses the struggle of every person to overcome the thoughtlessness, selfishness, indeed the evil in himself. This represents the phase of history in which we live now. While man travels down the corridor of time--proceeding from the beginning to the end, whether of his life or of the life of humankind as a whole--the main object of his struggles must be to strengthen the good, which means overcoming evil.
At the conclusion comes Sukkot, with its references to the end point of the human experience. Without Sukkot, we would have only the one-two sequence of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, suggesting that a struggle must go on forever, with no hope of an ultimate victory--a depressing prospect. But there is indeed hope. Each Sukkot is a preview of what it will be like to experience the culmination and conclusion of the historical process, lending the festival the atmosphere of joy for which it is known.
Wednesday, November 12, 2003
BELATEDLY, here's a Beliefnet essay by David Klinghoffer on the eschatological elements traditionally associated with Sukkot. Excerpt: