I’ve grown accustomed to hearing, year after year, that “Sukkot is the hardest holiday to explain to outsiders”, or the o-so-popular “if a non Jew saw us shaking our Lulavim he’d think we were all pagans”. A popular answer is the standard default of “yes, it really is strange and pagan-like but we do it because Hashem commanded us even if it looks strange”, or better yet, “even more so because it is strange”.
I cannot accept these kinds of answers.
1) I refuse to accept that Torah and Mitzvot are some sort of test, which is the foundation of these types of answers. I don’t observe Mitzvot in order to prove anything to anyone – other nations, other Jews, myself or even God.
2) Only a Judaism that has lost touch with its own origins could say such a thing. Torah is rooted in the life of a nation in its land. The three major holidays revolve around agriculture. They may have a historical element to them as well but their celebrations are primarily agricultural. Throughout exile, these elements were downplayed or forgotten altogether to the point where we are uncertain how engaging with nature on the most fundamental level could possibly fit with Torah.
I would argue that few things make more sense than connecting to Hashem through the embracement of nature. We leave our artificial, man-made, houses and lives and surround ourselves with those of Hashem’s. We surround ourselves with nature, we touch nature, we smell nature and it is all a Mitzvah. Doing nothing at all in the Sukkah is a Mitzvah not just because “Hashem said we should do it”, rather because, if you view nature as a place where Hashem dwells and reveals himself, than by embracing it you are embracing Him (fulfilling a Mitzvah). Sukkot reveals that, sometimes, you can connect to Hashem even by just being.
Indeed, one may be able to do so “safely” only after going through the processes of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur and especially in the Land of Israel. But, nonetheless, it reveals the possibility of engaging the divine without all the regular “hoopla”, rather by just getting in touch with the most fundamental aspects of existence – (our) nature itself.
Imagine how sincere such a natural-holy Simcha of Mitzvah such an approach would evoke and produce!