One of Yom Kippur’s climactic moments occurs when the High Priest enters the Holy of Holies with incense and a fire pan. While in the Holy of Holies, the High Priest created a cloud of smoke that filled the enclosed space. While obviously the smoke eventually dissipated, Chassidut delving ever deeper asks what really happened to this cloud of smoke? Taking this phenomenon to theoretical and allegorical levels, Chassidut asks what happens to the passion of the soul aroused to its very heights after Yom Kippur ends? Some answer that the cloud of smoke, representing the soul’s passion, is transformed into the sukkah’s walls and especially its upper covering. This interpretation makes sense as Sukkot, the Festival of Booths, begins five days after Yom Kippur, so the spiritual energy is naturally transmuted into the next spiritual endeavor. There is actually a custom to do some work on building one’s sukkah on the evening after Yom Kippur in order to emphasize the spiritual connection between the two holidays.
The question of what happens to an awakened or inspired soul once the peak experience begins to fade into memory is an important one on both practical and theoretical levels. Thus, Chassidut asks the same question about the aroused soul once the sounds of the 100 Rosh Hashanah shofar blasts fade into memory. Chassidut answers that the numerical value of the Hebrew word for the foliage used to cover the sukkah (sechach) is 100. The heart awakened by the piercing sounds of the 100 shofar blasts does not become dormant again; its spiritual energy is transmuted into the very structure of the holy sukkah.
Sukkot, following the contemplative days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, is in essence a continuation of the same teshuvah process, but with a special emphasis on joy and integration. What began on Rosh Hashanah as ethereal and idealistic longings of the heart must now be actualized within the real world. The Torah commands us to shake the four species (palm, citron, myrtle, and willow) on Sukkot in six directions – the four cardinal directions as well as above and below. This represents the hands-on integration of the deep introspection and prayers of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. In the process of shaking the four species in each direction they are first held close to the heart, then they are thrust outwards and shaken, and finally they are brought back to the heart. All the innermost, deep-felt prayers born in the heart and mind and represented by the blasts of the shofar and the incense cloud must now find the means to manifest themselves in the outside world.
The mystic sod tradition teaches that when a Jew sits in the sukkah – underneath the sechach, which symbolizes the Shechinah’s protective wings – it is just as if he is in the Holy of Holies. The High Priest’s experience when he entered the innermost sanctuary and the transcendent experience every Jew had when hearing the shofar blasts are transformed into the physical space of the sukkah. For an entire week we are enveloped by the Shechinah and encouraged to meditate on the deepest stirrings of our hearts and souls. By shaking the four species over the course of the holiday we symbolically translate these feelings into a practical plan of action to be put into play in the new year.