The holiday of Sukkos immediately follows the Yomim Nora’im, and our sages suggest various associations between the two.
The Sefer Shabbos Malkesa says that during the Days of Awe everyone exerts at least some effort to be exceptionally close to Hashem in line with the verse (Yeshayah 55:6), “Seek Hashem when He can be found.” The days of judgment are an auspicious time to achieve higher spiritual levels as we coronate Hashem king over ourselves and the entire world and purify ourselves with repentance and prayers.
After such holy days, one is loathe to immediately resume ordinary life, distancing oneself from the sanctity one has achieved. Therefore, Hashem gave us Sukkos, seven days during which we pursue our everyday living within the holiness of the sukkah. In effect, we are given an opportunity to sanctify the mundane in the spirituality of the sukkah.
Sukkos is thus a bridge between the powerful holiness of the Yomim Nora’im and the routine days of the rest of the year. On this yom tov, we transform our day-to-day lives with the great holiness that we gained during the Yomim Nora’im.
Rav Shimshon Pincus points out that the words “melech ozer umoshi’a umagen – king, helper, savior and shield” in Shemone Esrei allude to the essence of the special days of Tishrei:
“Melech” refers to Rosh Hashanah when we crown Hashem king; “ozer” refers to the Ten Days of Repentance, when we are all dedicated to doing teshuvah and Hashem helps us attain higher levels of spirituality; “u’moshia” refers to Yom Kippur, the day on which Hashem saves us through atonement; and “magen” refers to Sukkos. The schach of the sukkah shields us, and the yom tov itself shields us from negative influences so that we can cling to and maintain our elevated spiritual level.
The Tolner Rebbe relates the following to illustrate the power of a mitzvah done in good faith, even if not completely in accordance with halachah.
A Jew who lived in America was very far from Torah and mitzvos, but there was one mitzvah to which he was deeply devoted and which he fulfilled with great mesiras nefesh. One week a year on Sukkos he would go out to a hut in his yard where he would spend his days and nights.
Before he left this world, he wrote in his will that if his sons and grandsons observed this mitzvah one week a year, they would inherit his possessions.
The children thought their father/grandfather had lost his mind. What was this crazy practice he expected them to do? Furthermore, who was interested in his neglected property and meager belongings?
After some time had passed, though, one of his grandchildren thought to himself: Obviously, it was very important to my grandfather to fulfill this custom. After all, he left his inheritance to the one who would continue to observe it. I will agree to go out to the hut and live there for one week a year.
The grandson signed an agreement, and he received all his grandfather’s belongings and personal effects. When the grandson went through everything, he discovered that actually his grandfather was very wealthy. He owned many valuable pieces of property and had sizable bank accounts. By consenting to the simple request of an old man, the grandson had become very well-off overnight. To avoid any resentment or jealousy, though, he did not share this information with anyone else.
It was not easy for him to perform the conditions of the will – to spend a full week in the dilapidated hut, especially when he could not fathom the reason for this strange custom. So after he did so for the first time – after the week was over – the grandson decided to investigate the source of this Jewish tradition.
In his search, he spoke to a rav who immediately understood that he was referring to the mitzvah of sukkah. The rav asked him for details about the hut, such as what it was made of and how many walls it had. Not versed at all in the halachos of sukkah, the young man offered to show the rav the hut.
The rav was taken to the hut and was shocked when he saw it was constructed of non-kosher material with a roof on top. He could not believe a Jew so removed from Torah and mitzvos would be willing to take such pains to fulfill this one mitzvah, albeit not according to halacha.
The rav began to explain the mitzvah of sukkah to the grandson. He told him about yetzias Mitzrayim, the Clouds of Glory, matan Torah, the mitzvos we fulfill today, and the specific mitzvah that his grandfather had tried to fulfill with self-sacrifice. The grandson was enthralled and captivated by the words of the rav and inquired further about all the other mitzvos.
The rav invited him to come to Torah classes and shiurim, and the grandson was slowly drawn closer to Judaism. Eventually he became a chozer b’teshuvah and established a family that observed Torah and mitzvos.
Such is the power of mesiras nefesh for a mitzvah. Although the sukkah was completely pasul, it had the power to return a Jew to our Father in Heaven.