Sukkos is a multi-sensory celebration, celebrated with every facet of our being. The mitzvah of Sukkah is one of only two mitzvos performed with one’s entire body (the other being yishuv Eretz Yisrael). The Kotzker Rebbe would say that in the sukkah even the mud on one’s boots becomes holy. We eat delicacies, drink wine, and bask in the glory of the sukkah. We also “take” the Four Species, which contain a plethora of symbolisms. This includes the four-letter Name of G-d, four different classifications of Jews, the Patriarchs and Yosef HaTzadik, and the seven Ushpizin.
Water, the most basic and essential liquid on our planet and for our well-being, has a central focus in our prayers and celebrations.
Soul and body unite in the intense Sukkos celebration. But there is one part of my body that gets nervous and takes quite a beating during the days of preparation for this glorious holiday – my hands.
I’m not very construction-oriented, to say the least. While I have friends who get excited going to the Home Depot or Lowe’s, I can think of few places that evoke more confusion and helplessness for me than going to those stores. When I was told I needed new screws for my sukkah, I took one of the old screws to the Home Depot, showed it to one of the employees and asked him if he could find me more of those. If anyone starts telling me numbers and measurements of screws or panels, I’m as lost as a kindergartener at NASA.
When I finally start building my sukkah (more precisely, trying to help our righteous neighbor building our sukkah), I invariably end up smacking my fingers with a hammer. When rolling out the mats of s’chach, my custom seems to be to roll them out in the wrong direction first and then being forced to redo it. It’s a challenge to lift the re-rolled-up mat and turn it around while standing atop a ladder. I also always end up scraping my fingers and getting a few bamboo splinters along the way. Those splinters are particularly painful.
Another of the famous meanings of the Four Species is that they symbolize and represent four of our major organs. The esrog is shaped like a heart, the lulav like a spine, the elongated leaves of the aravah like lips, and the leaves of the hadasim like eyes. We grasp and clutch all four together in our hands in performing the mitzvah.
When something is precious to us, we clutch it tightly. When we feel strongly about something, we may make a fist and shake or pump our fist in the air. For example, when an athlete makes a great play, he may pump his fist as an expression of enthusiasm or bravado. A closed fist symbolizes acquisition and mastery. Whatever is within one’s fist is within his grasp and control.
In a different vein, at times, when a person prays intensely and emotionally, he may wave his closed fist. This is an expression of hope that he merits what he is praying for.
During the days before Sukkos, we busy ourselves preparing for the beloved mitzvos of Sukkos. Despite the fact that doing so may at times entail some discomfort, especially for a novice like me, we do so exuberantly and excitedly. Throughout the seven days of Sukkos, we grasp the Four Species lovingly and circle the bimah while reciting Hoshanos. We grasp each other’s hands in song and dance at a Simchas Beis HaSho’eivah. But the crescendo is achieved on Simchas Torah. Throughout hakafos, aside from everyone holding hands and dancing, parents and grandparents lovingly clutch their children. At the start of each hakafah, many have the custom to throw their children upwards, an expression of the parents’ greatest desire that their children always spiritually transcend the confines of normal limitations. But most profound of all is when we clutch the sefer Torah and hold it close to our hearts. In doing so, we profess our devotion and love to its timeless words and values. We want our youth to witness that spectacle so that it gets seared into their souls.
What we clutch and grasp tightly says a lot about our values.
It is always sad when it’s time to dismantle the sukkah and put the Four Species aside. For me, there are always a few more splinters and pricks. But somehow, the pricks I accrue while I am dismantling the sukkah and s’chach are far more painful than the ones I get assembling the sukkah.
The formidable challenge of post-holiday is to maintain the emotional connection we attained and felt. Perhaps one way we can do so is to think about the precious things we clutch constantly. As we hold our siddur, don our t’filin, hold a sefer, or perform a kind deed for another, we can remind ourselves how precious those commodities are and how they connect us with our great values. In doing so, we can also mentally connect with the joy we felt on Sukkos when we held and performed so many special mitzvos in our hands.
Most of the mitzvos of Seder night are performed with our mouths. Many of the mitzvos performed on Sukkos are performed with our hands.
They say you can’t take it with you. But if we hold it dear in our hearts and pay attention to what we are holding in our hands, perhaps we can indeed take some of that growth with us.