But then, just in time, comes Sukkot, the festival for restoring me back to wholeness. It is the holiday that, according to tradition, is made for reviving our spirit. It is a mitzvah to be joyful on Sukkot.
Rabbi Yehudah Leib Alter of Ger, known as the S'fat Emet, observed words of Isaiah that he applied to Yom Kippur (S'fat Emet 5:236): "Your sins have been a barrier between you and your God" (Isaiah 59:2). There are sins, he said, that are a barrier that separate you from yourself and sins that separate you from God. Wherever we experience sin, we experience disunity. The purification of Yom Kippur is intended to repair our fractured selves, but the holiday leaves us feeling like a jigsaw puzzle with its intense focus on all that creates barriers and separation within us.
In contrast, he said, on Sukkot, everything is seen as unity from its beginning. The four species of the Lulav symbolize the unity of Sukkot—willow, myrtle, palm and etrog all come together to form a single entity. Under the sukkah, all our souls are united with God. The S'fat Emet says that this is why the holiday is called the “Festival of Ingathering.” It is not just the harvest that we bring in on Sukkot. This is the festival in which we gather in ourselves as whole and complete beings after the fracturing of Yom Kippur.