Sukkot – Seeing God’s Presence

Folks, tonite begins the festival of Sukkot. The holiday itself celebrates our survival in the desert while living in shacks for 40 years. The physical manifestation of Gd’s love and protection were the clouds that encircled us.

While we were living in shacks, we were surrounded by Divine clouds that were sent to protect us from every possible harm. The Torah tells us that our path was determined not by anyone’s navigational skills, but by the direction taken by the pillar of cloud that led us by day, and the pillar of fire by night. We lived constantly with both challenges — as is symbolized by the fragility of the sukkah itself, and the inspiration given by the clouds.

The laws concerning the construction of the sukkah (shelter) are there to provide us with the opportunity to relive the experience of feeling God’s life-force surrounding us without the distractions that blind us to Him.

A sukkah is defined as having more shade than light, yet we must still be able to see the stars. The light is dimmed, yet clearly visible. That is the reality by which we live, and through which we ultimately achieve happiness and fulfillment.

The schach symbolizes to us that the world in which we live is very much one in which God is with us. Although there is more darkness than light, we still see the stars.

How do we bring the joy of Sukkot into our lives and keep it there? We can do it by changing the way we think. When we look at life in a way that includes God in our moment-to-moment equations, we can change our willingness to embrace challenge instead of retreating in fear, and to be open to giving and receiving love.

Knowing that wherever we are, and no matter what negative choices we made in the past, God is compassionate and loves us more than we love ourselves. As long as we are alive, there are opportunities to find love and meet challenges.

Learning to recognize the ultimate Address of all the goodness that we experience. It is God who provided us with family, gave us access to friends, and most of all it is His living presence within us that inspires our self-expression. When we ask what we like best in the person we love the most, inevitably the answer will be “s/he is loyal, trustworthy a real straight arrow”; “s/he is sensitive, when we are together I feel understood”; “s/he is caring and giving.” None of these traits describe a physical characteristic. They are all expressions of the infinite light of God within us.

Letting go of thinking that God owes you a spouse/job/home/ because you live a decent life. Believe it or not, God was coping long before you were on the scene, and will continue to do so when you leave this world. Rather than thinking in terms of entitlement, learn to think honestly. We are the constant recipients of gifts that we can never repay.

Letting go of blaming other people for your life’s challenges. God designs them for you. No one can increase or decrease the quality or quantity of the challenges that you will face. To paraphrase the Talmud, God has many bears and many lions.

Knowing that our hearts are an open book. God “reads” us and isn’t deceived by any of our mind games. Happiness depends to a large degree on how much integrity we have when confronting life.

Learning to take responsibility. Our need to be awakened by the disturbing and chaotic nature of this world is sometimes precipitated by our deep spiritual slumber.

Appreciating that the need to earn a living brings out our creativity, that the temptation to cross lines financially brings out our morality, and that facing our limitations draws us closer to humility and having an honest relationship with God.

We are all in this together. We have different challenges in our lives and different paths that can lead us to inspiration. But we are bound together. This idea is symbolized by the four species that we join together on Sukkot. They grow in different climates, and have different qualities — the etrog (citron) is the heart, the lulav (palm) the spine, the hadassim (myrtles) the eyes, the aravot (willows) the lips. But on Sukkot, we hold them aloft, together as one, in recognition of the Power that binds us to a shared destiny.

The joy that we feel as we face life with faith has the power not only to change us as individuals and as Jews, but to change the face of the entire world. The 70 bulls sacrificed in ancient times in the Temple during the week of Sukkot symbolized the 70 aboriginal nations from which civilization stems. Each one, in their own way, will find the God of Israel, and discover the resources of joy within their collective souls.

May the day come soon all humanity comes together under the banner of the One Who sustains us all, and may we discover the life’s true joy constantly brimming beneath the surface.

Excerpted from articles by Rebbetzin Tzipporah Heller on

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