On Yom Kippur, we fasted the entire day. Bent over our prayer books, we confessed our sins, a total of ten times during the course of the day. How ashamed we felt of ourselves!
Now, less than a week later, we are enjoined to celebrate the "Season of our Joy." Isn't the contrast too sharp? Can we really be humbly repentant on the tenth of Tishrei, and exultant on the fifteenth? Isn't that asking too much?
A well-known joke describes a not-too-outstanding young pupil who arrives home with his end-of-the year report card.
"Son, let's see your report card," says Father.
Reluctantly, Junior hands over the document attesting to his academic accomplishments during the last five months. Father opens it and reads out loud:
"'Reading - F!' What's wrong with you?" he demands, before carrying on.
He glances at the next subject, and his eyes grow wider. "'Writing - F! Arithmetic - F!' I can't believe my eyes!
Junior wishes the floor would swallow him up. Father reads on:
"'English - F! Spelling - F! Social Studies - F!'" Father glares at his wayward son, who remains silent.
Father turns back to the document in his hand. "'Music - A!'"
He turns back to Junior. His fury peaks. "A in Music? A in Music?"
Father can no longer contain himself. He stands Junior on his feet and lands him a solid wallop from behind.
Junior bites his lip. He's confused. Did he get the whack for getting an A in Music, or for all the F's in other subjects?
"But Dad," he asks, "aren't you glad that I did well in Music at least?"
"No!" declares Father emphatically.
"But why not?" persists Junior. "Would it be better to fail Music, too?"
"Yes!" answers Father.
Father moans, and explains: "With marks like these in Reading, Writing, Spelling, English, and Social Studies, what in the world did you have to sing about?"
And what about us? After spending so much time and effort detailing all our shortcomings and listing our sins, after weeks of introspection and pleading for mercy, is this the time to rejoice and celebrate?
Yes it is. The Torah tells us why. Going back to our anecdote, let us explain.
If Junior was lazy, and neglected his schoolwork, yet remained happy, lively, and full of song, he indeed deserves a good spanking.
But had he approached his father with tears in his eyes and promised to mend his ways, to turn over a new leaf that very day, and apply himself diligently to his studies, there might have indeed been reason for rejoicing.
How so? If Father had been convinced that his son truly regretted his negligence, if he had accepted Junior's apologies and pleas for forgiveness, there would have been ample reason to be grateful and gladdened. In such a case, Junior would have every reason to burst out in song.
G-d is a merciful Father. When He accepts our petitions for mercy and inscribes us for a year of life and blessing; when He declares that the past is a sealed book, and today, we are starting a new page, clean and untainted and immaculately clean – surely we have every reason to be happy, to rejoice, and to burst forth in song!
When Yom Kippur draws to a close, and our prayers and repentance are accepted, a Heavenly voice declares:
Go your way, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a glad heart; for God has already accepted your works.
Heaven has hearkened to our pleas for forgiveness; shall we not exult? Is this not truly the "Season of Our Rejoicing"?
In Leviticus 23:42 we find that the Scriptures tell us:
You shall dwell in booths seven days; all that are home-born in Israel shall dwell in booths…
We infer from this verse that it would be fitting - if feasible - for the entire nation to dwell in one enormous sukkah.
On Sukkos, we take the Four Species - a palm branch (lulav), a citron, and willow and myrtle branches - and bind them together.
The citron, the esrog, is endowed with both a good taste and a fragrant aroma. It symbolizes those members of the Jewish nation who have studied Torah and also perform good deeds.
The palm tree produces dates, which are nourishing, but it lacks a pleasing aroma such as that of the esrog. It is comparable to one who has gained a knowledge of Torah, but lacks good deeds.
The myrtle branch is aromatic, but does not provide us with nourishment. It can be compared to those Jews who perform good deeds, but are not learned in Torah.
The willow has no taste and no fragrance, representing the Jew who is lacking both Torah knowledge and good deeds.
On Sukkos, we bind all four together and wave them in all directions. One concept this expresses is that all types of Jews can relate to G-d regardless of their backgrounds.
This gives us an additional reason that Sukkos is termed the "Season of Our Rejoicing." When we stand united, despite the differences among us, this is surely a reason to celebrate and to rejoice for seven days.
May Heaven help us to remain united as brothers, and may the joy of the festival remain with us throughout the entire year!