Sukkot: The Joy of Divine Love

A human being is a creature that is split in two. One part of us is a Divine spark of God that longs for the heavens; the other is an animal body that is firmly entrenched in this physical world. The goal of our existence is to make a bridge between these two parts of ourselves, to bring the energy and consciousness of the higher worlds down into our earthly existence.

We accomplish this spiritual work through the medium of the centers or sefirot that compose our spiritual body. Through spiritual practices and disciplines we refine the quality of the energies that pass through our centers and raise the level of our state of consciousness. The more refined the centers, the higher we can reach into Heaven and the greater the energies that we are able to bring down into the world.

Rebbe Natan of Nemirov teaches that the arba minim, the four species that we wave on Sukkot, are a living symbol of this work. [1] The arba minim consist of a lulav, which is made from palm, myrtle and willow branches tied together, and an etrog, a special kind of citrus fruit. The lulav symbolizes the three energy passages that flow through the body. The lulav itself (palm branch) symbolizes the spine or central column of energy. The aravot (willow branches) and hadasim (myrtle) symbolize the left and right hand columns that rise up on either side of the body, the energies of chesed (mercy) and din (judgment), or ida and pingala as they are called in Yogic terminology. The etrog (citrus fruit) symbolizes the heart center.

Anchoring the consciousness and energies of the higher worlds on this physical plane of existence was the fundamental purpose of the Temple, the “Heart of the World.” On Sukkot, we strive to actualize this spiritual process in our individual lives. The arba minim symbolize the underlying spiritual dynamic of this process. The sukkah that we build for the holyday is the external manifestation of the inner work, a temporary temple where we dwell with God.

On Yom Kippur, we cleanse ourselves of all our impurities, all of the desires and illusions that come between our true Self and us. In this state of total freedom we touch upon the consciousness of the Kingdom of Heaven. On Sukkot, we strive to hold on to this exalted state, to integrate it ever more profoundly into our heart and mind.

This is the hidden meaning behind the daily celebrations to mark the water ablutions that were poured on the Temple altar during the holyday. These celebrations were called simchat beit hashoavah, “the joy of the house of drawing.” On Sukkot we strive to draw forth the life-giving waters of the Spirit. We try to experience the inner bliss which is the natural state of the soul.

Sri Ramakrishna used to say “He who has once tasted the refined and crystalline sugar-candy, finds no pleasure in raw treacle.” [2] After we have tasted the sweetness of God’s presence on Yom Kippur, the pleasures of this world no longer hold any attraction for us. On Sukkot, we are free of the bonds of the lower self. We live both in this world and also in God.

On Yom Kippur, we put all matters of this world aside in order to touch the higher consciousness of the Kingdom of Heaven. On Sukkot, we bring this higher consciousness back into our daily life and make it our natural state of being.

Rebbe Natan teaches that this is the reason that we live in a sukkah rather than a house during the holyday. Most of the year, we need the four solid walls of a house to protect us from the outside world and its influences. On Sukkot, we live in a temporary structure with barely three walls and a roof that is open to the stars, because we have reached a level of awareness where we can be open to the world without it affecting our inner harmony. [3]

This is the true state we are striving for, not a fragile holiness that is afraid of life, but a powerful spirituality that will be a positive force in the world. We seek to manifest a spirituality that is a source of illumination to others; a sanctity that radiates the Divine qualities of joy, love and peace.

On Sukkot, we look outward to the world and not just inward to our own people. This is why Sukkot was the time when non-Jews would bring sacrifices to the Temple. On Sukkot, the unity of humanity and the oneness of all Creation is a living truth for us.

The way to attain this expansive consciousness is made clear to us by the manner in which the tradition approaches the arba minim. Of the four species that make up the arba minim, the greatest emphasis is placed on the etrog. Before the holyday, religious Jews expend tremendous effort in trying to acquire an etrog that is beautiful and unblemished. This is because the etrog is symbolic of tiferet, the heart center. Tiferet holds a central place in the body of sefirot. It is the driving pump that circulates the energies throughout the rest of the spiritual body. It is the center that opens up the higher consciousness of the soul. The condition of the heart center gives us a clear indication of the overall health of the spiritual body. No one can reach into the Kingdom of Heaven without a heart center that is open and flowing.

Love is the key to the experience of unity and oneness. Universal love arises out of the personal experience of God’s Infinite Love. In that sublime state we know that everything is interconnected, we know that everything is One.

In the Kabbalah, water is symbolic of chesed, the Divine attribute of mercy and love. The festivities surrounding the water ablutions in the Temple on Sukkot were a celebration of the tremendous outpouring of Supernal Love that flowed into the world at that time. It was the experience of this sublime all-encompassing love which sent the rabbis into such ecstatic joy. And it was the all-embracing nature of this love which paved the way for the offerings of other nations that occurred in the Temple on this holyday.

Divine Love is the transforming force that animates the ritual of lulav and etrog. It is the power which lifts our consciousness into the realm of pure happiness and joy. Divine Love builds the inner sukkah where we dwell in God’s Living Presence. When humanity becomes permeated with the light of this transcendent energy, then the Kingdom of Heaven will be revealed upon earth.

 

CONTEMPLATION FOR THE ARBA MINIM:

Take the lulav (palm branch) in your right hand, with the hadasim (myrtle) on the right facing you and the aravot (willows) on your left. Then take the etrog [citrus fruit] in your left hand and place it in front of the lulav. Now hold this whole bundle together while standing facing the East.

Before you begin, ask for God’s love and protection to fill your Sukkah.  Now bring the bundle to your heart and focus on the heart center and its energy flowing through you and into the lulav. Stretch your arms out and point the lulav to your right and imagine the heart energy streaming out the end of the lulav in the direction that you are pointing. Now bring the lulav back to the heart and pause a minute to refocus your mind. Do this movement three times.

The first time you go through this movement, focus on radiating the energy of God’s love and light into your sukkah. The second time, focus on sending the energy to the whole of the nation of Israel and the Jewish people. The third time, send the energy of God’s love and light out to the entire world.

Now repeat the whole process in all six directions: first to your left, then in front of you, above you (point the lulav up into the air), below low you (point the lulav down towards the ground), and finally turn around and point it behind you. Remember to return the lulav and etrog to the heart each time and re-energize it there.

When you are finished the last movement, stand still and feel the peace and the presence that has filled you and the sukkah, then thank God for the grace that you have received.

 

Copyright © 2010, by Yoel Glick



 

Acknowledgements    (↵ returns to text)

  1. Natan of Nemirov, Likutei Halachot, Hilchot Sukkah, halacha 1 and Hilchot Chazakat Karkaot, halacha 3: 11-12, quoted in Otzar haHora’ah: Teshuvat Hashanah:Sukkot #84 and 164
  2. ‘M’, The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, as translated by Swami Nikhilananda, p. 117
  3. Natan of Nemirov, Likutei Halachot, Hilchot Omanim, halacha 4:14,16,17,18, quoted in Teshuvat Hashanah:Sukkot # 195