After the experience of the Divine Presence that is the fruit of our spiritual work during the High Holydays, we enter into the joy of the festival of Sukkot. The construction of the sukkah (temporary abode) is the symbolic expression of our desire to make the shift in our angle of vision that we achieved during the High Holydays a permanent part of our life. By moving from our houses into the sukkah we are proclaiming our resistance to returning to the material mindset of our mundane lives, the ocean of desires and struggles that make up life on this physical plane of existence.
The sukkah is a refuge from the upheaval and tumult of the world of the personality, a place outside of time and space. It is a sacred zone where the physical and the spiritual realms intertwine. It is a dedicated space where we can commune with our soul.
When God creates a human being, He “breaks off” a spark of His Infinite Being and clothes it in a physical form. This physical form enables us to have an individual identity and self-awareness. This individuality creates the dual reality in which we live. Out of this dual reality arises the interdependent network of living forms that make up our universe.
It is this self-awareness which is the central characteristic of humanity. It is that which divides us from the animal kingdom. Only we are able to self-reference, to analyze and contemplate the world around us, to think about events that have long past, or futures that are still to come.
Yet it is this sense of “otherness” which has separated us from our spiritual source. It is only by creating a barrier between the Divine Mind and our own individual mind that we are able to keep our consciousness separate from the all-encompassing consciousness of the Infinite Divine Oneness. Without this barrier or veil, we would merge into the undifferentiated Unity of Being and be unable to live, grow and evolve on this physical plane.
At the same time, because we are born of the Oneness, we carry within us a powerful longing to return to our source, a deep yearning to transcend our separateness and merge into the Eternal Unity.
We are not always conscious of this inner longing. For numerous incarnations, it lies buried and forgotten under the powerful influence of the mental barrier inside us. Under its influence, we are filled with a desire for physical existence and all the pleasures and benefits that it brings. We look outward for our fulfillment and satisfaction. We look outward for knowledge and understanding. The existence of our Divine source remains a faint memory, a vague intuition that only comes to the fore at key moments in our life.
Then there comes a time when we begin to turn away from the world and look inward. We begin to search for eternal truths and a higher purpose for our lives. We strive to reach beyond this “mind barrier” and touch a higher realm that transcends the limitations and struggles of this physical world.
As we have seen, the High Holydays is a period that is set up to facilitate this inner transformation. It is a “moment in time” when the veil is less opaque and the barrier more pliable. It is a cosmic event when there is a close approach between the Great Beings living on higher planes and those of us that inhabit physical forms.
When this door is open, we awaken to God’s living presence and taste of the higher reality which is our true home. We are allowed entry into this reality through the disciplines and prayers of Yom Kippur. We make it our own during the week of Sukkot.
The state of internal abidance that the sukkah signifies is a protected oasis in the midst of the spiritually parched conditions of this physical world. This is why the sukkah is compared to the Clouds of Glory that surrounded the Children of Israel in the desert. Like the Clouds of Glory in the desert, the sukkah envelops us in the over-arching embrace of the Divine Presence and shields us from the harsher influences of this material plane.
This is also why the tradition tells us that we receive (seven) heavenly guests in the sukkah: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, David, as well as Sarah, Rebecca, Leah, Rachel, Miriam, Hannah, and Ruth all come to “visit” us in our spiritual oasis. On Sukkot, we gain access into the consciousness of the higher realm and come into contact with those who are our eternal companions.
On another level, Sukkot is a harvest festival, a time when we give thanks to God for the bounty of the natural world. We build our sukkah outside, and spend the week dwelling in close proximity to nature. We decorate our sukkah with fruit from the harvest and wave the lulav and etrog (the palm, myrtle and willow branches and special citrus fruit) in the six directions to symbolize our desire to protect and sanctify this temporary home. Normally, the walls of our home serve to keep the natural kingdom at bay. On Sukkot, this kingdom becomes an integral part of our daily existence.
This juxtaposition of inner awakening and approach to the natural world is not accidental. There is a higher purpose behind this drawing near of the two kingdoms. The creatures in nature do not possess the individual consciousness that human beings do. They do not have the high degree of self-awareness and analytical capacity that is the inheritance of humankind.
The explanation for this distinction is the fact that plants and animals do not have an individual soul. They are overshadowed by a great angelic presence as part of a collective unity in spirit. All of their interactions with reality take place through the medium of this great life. Every event is experienced through the mirror of this collective mind.
This unity in spirit also means that, unlike in the human kingdom, there is no barrier separating the creatures of nature from their Divine source. In the natural kingdom, there is a free mingling of the two planes of consciousness. Herein lies the hidden purpose behind their role in the festival of Sukkot. By leaving our homes and entering into the natural world, we are able to tap into this aspect of collective awareness. Through this collective presence, we are able to bridge the higher and the lower planes.
This is the reason why in general so many people seek to escape into the outdoors. They are searching for the joy that is found in this kingdom, the feeling of peace and tranquility that permeates any area of virgin nature. This expansive and soothing energy pours forth unhindered from the spiritual realm whenever the disruptive presence of humans is absent.
However, it is not just the happiness of the simple life in nature that we experience on Sukkot. The joy of this season is much more elevated and exalted. It combines the joy of the natural kingdom with the joy of the inner awakening that has taken place during the High Holydays. It is this combination which takes us into such a state of spiritual bliss, and that turns Sukkot into the most joyous festival in the Jewish calendar.
There is yet another component to the spiritual chemistry of this festival, the energy of the Shekhinah, the Divine (Feminine) Presence. In Temple times, the rejoicing of the Water Libation took place on Sukkot. This ceremony was symbolic of the great watering of heart and soul that flowed down from the heavenly worlds into this physical plane in a tremendous outpouring of the Shechinah energy.
Each day, as water was poured out on the altar, celebrations would take place in the Temple courtyard with devotional singing and ecstatic dancing. During these celebrations, the great rabbis and prophets would enter into altered states of consciousness in which they experienced Divine visions and received words of inspiration.
The Shekhinah energy is earth energy, the fundamental creative force of the universe. There is an intimate connection between this energy and the natural kingdom. On Sukkot, we link into the power of God’s presence through the combination of the inner purity that we have achieved during the High Holydays and the creative energy that is inherent in the natural kingdom.
There is a custom to spend a few last moments in the sukkah at the end of the festival and recite the following words:
“O Lord, our God, and God of our fathers, may it be Your Will that just as we have fulfilled and sat in this sukkah, so may we merit to sit next year in the sukkah of the skin of Leviathan.”
This custom arises out of a tradition that at the end of days all of Israel will gather together in a sukkah that is made from the skin of the mythical beast, the Leviathan.
The Leviathan is a great sea monster or serpent. It is a symbol of the serpent energy, the energy of the Shekhinah. To make a sukkah from the skin of the Leviathan, then, is to make this energy the spiritual “dwelling” that we inhabit – to transform it into a vessel through which we can receive the infinite blessing of God’s grace.
One of the traditional names for the Temple is Sukkat Shalom, the Tabernacle of Peace. The sukkah of Leviathan is an inner location where all discord and disharmony are banished and peace and tranquility reign. The “Sukkah of the End of Days” is a transcendent moment when the concepts of time and space come to an end. It is a sudden flash when the terrifying physical form of the mythical serpent is slain and the awesome power of its Divine essence is liberated. It is a split second in which the base instincts of intolerance, greed, jealousy and hate are overcome and the unitive consciousness of love, fellowship and mutual acceptance is awakened within us. When we dwell in the sukkah of Leviathan, we not only experience peace, we become peace.
On Sukkot, we enter into this holy place of infinite peace. We plunge into our inner space and experience the joy of the Divine Presence. We dwell in the Sukkah of the End of Days, the transcendent reality that is the point of fusion between our lower and our higher selves, the sacred door that leads us from the physical into the spiritual realm.
– from Seeking the Divine Presence
copyright © 2009 by Yoel Glick