When it comes to the Jewish calendar, we have a time and place for all emotions. Elul is a time of deep introspection as we prepare ourselves for the new year, Adar is a time of great excitement and cheer as we celebrate overthrowing that wicked Haman from the Purim story, Av is a time of deep sadness as we mourn the destruction of our Holy Temples and the exile of the Jews from their land.
Since Tishrei (the month after Elul) is when we have the greatest concentration of holidays, we nickname it, especially in Israel, where, in many areas, there's a greater concentration of Jews in relation to non-Jews, we refer to the month of Tishrei as holiday season. Unlike holidays in America and Europe, where people celebrate by swarming the shops and running from party to party, the cultural flair in the Holy Land is one where people transition from the thoughtful seriousness of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur to the festive camaraderie of Sukkot.
What do I mean?
During the first ten days of Tishrei, which is when Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur fall out, we work on our individual relationships with G-d, begging Him for a successful happy sweet new year; we make resolutions to improve in certain areas and we commit to living spiritual lives. If you happen to be one of those people rushing to a relative or friends mere hours before Yom Kippur sets in, you'll notice that the streets in certain cities are eerily still; this more than anything demonstrates how serious the day is as people spend the next twenty-five hours analyzing their inner worlds and davening (connecting with G-d in prayer).
Then, the sun sets the following evening.
People dry their tears, close their siddurim (prayer books) and immediately set about building sukkot - wooden huts - for Sukkot. What's interesting is that the national mood of Jews everywhere -- especially in Israel where the concentration of Jews is highest -- takes a 180 degree turn as the air fills with the sound of drilling, the rustling of palm fronds and the slap of bamboo boards as people hurry to pull their sukkot together.
For those of us who feel emotion intensely need time to segue from one to another, Sukkot, also know as Zman Simchatanu (a time of great joy) can come as a bit of shock. What happened to the furrowed eyebrows and the sounds of sorrys as people called one another to apologize for past misdeeds?
One of the reasons we call Sukkot a time of great joy is because we leave Yom Kippur feeling like we've been spiritually cleansed and that Hashem (G-d) has forgiven all our sins. In the first blessing of the amidah, we refer to this transition when we call Hashem a מלך, עוזר, מושיע ומגן, a King, a Helper, a Savior and a Shield. By Rosh Hashana, we declare our faithfulness to our sovereign and king, G-d. For the next ten days, called aseret yemei teshuvah - the ten days of repentance, we ask G-d to help us clean up our act and commit to a higher spiritual standing so that we will be written up in the Book of Life. On Yom Kippur, we call out to G-d as a Savior since He alone can rescue us from experiencing hardship and pain. During Sukkot, a time when we expose ourselves to the elements as we sit outside in those flimsy dwellings that we call temporary residences, we declare our aim to put our money where our mouths are. G-d is our shield; we depend on no one but Him.
By going out of our homes and living in Sukkot, we also acknowledge the transience of this world in relation to G-d's infiniteness. According to kabbalah, the four days between Yom Kippur and Sukkot are represented by the four letters of G-d's ineffable name. This name, also known as the tetragrammaton, means that G-d is, He was and He always will be. While we are looked into space and time, He is outside of it. Don't get too attached to materialism, we tell each other and ourselves, everything is temporal, here today, gone tomorrow. The only real thing to concentrate on is G-d and emulating Him.
By the time we get to Sukkot, hopefully we will have absorbed these lofty ideas. Because, once we do, we will be able to feel G-d's divine providence guiding us through the the maze of life while also providing us with shade from the elements.
Like the clouds that shielded us during our forty year stint in the desert, we can literally feel G-d's warmth and love surrounding us during the holiday of Sukkot. This is why we also refer to the walls of the Sukkah as a hug. According to halachah, Jewish law, a Sukkah is already considered kosher once it has two and a half walls, the same measurement as that of a person's arms when s/he hugs another.