Was it just me, or did this year’s Yom Kippur seem a lot less, well, dire than usual?
It started Friday night. Usually, Shabbat is a time of eating and plentifulness where we stuff our faces through three colossal meals crammed into one 24-hour span, but when it overlaps with Yom Kippur, there’s fasting all around. But the whole thing sort of felt like a joke — starting that morning, when I read this treatise from Shlomo Carlebach that stressed how Yom Kippur was a time of great happiness, and how everyone is supposed to act like they’re sure God is going to be happy with us and give us a good year instead of worrying that, well, we’re going to be smitten or something.
In synagogue, everyone was pretty chill. Afterward, instead of hurrying home to our Shabbos meals, we all stood outside and chatted. It was like Tisha B’Av in that we were hungry and wary and not 100% sure how to behave — we were wearing sandals and tallises at night and we’d just finished this super-long, super-intense prayer service and now there was nothing, Jewishly-speaking, that we had to do — but unlike Tisha B’Av, tonight we were standing around and talking and laughing. This one businessguy who’s sort of a secret undercover hippie was talking about our favorite synagogue in Crown Heights, and I was telling him how we’re planning to walk there on Simchas Torah (it’s about an hour’s walk). Other people were telling jokes. There was an underlying sense that, even though we were being judged, it was all going to be okay.
Really, though, the fun times are supposed to begin now. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are all about ascending to God’s level — they’re focused on yirah, which literally means “fear of God,” although it’s really more about being in awe and amazement and un-understanding of God. Sukkot, in Jewish liturgy, is nicknamed zman simchatenu — literally, “happy time.” First we’ve gotten into the habit of cowering and awe-ing before God, and ascending to a divine level. And now we’re prepared to bring that Godly power down into our own lives and have a good time and rave on — specifically, inside a sukkah, which is yet another Jewish holiday, but it’s a Jewish holiday that’s singularly about a whole week of parties.
Even the lone restriction of Sukkot — that is, that everything you eat has to be inside a sukkah — is an enticement to partying: Go find a sukkah! See what everyone else is doing inside it! Get outside your life and outside yourself for a bit. (And, if you’re me, trek across the city and actually breathe some real air while you’re scavenging for a bamboo hut in midtown Manhattan.)