Sukkot: The Holiday to Rejoice
This week we will be celebrating the wonderful holiday of Sukkot, which is marked by a unique command to “live” in a Sukkah. On Sukkot, more than on any other holiday, we are instructed to rejoice: "Samachta be’chagecha!" We are commanded to eat our meals in the Sukkah, and many will even sleep in the Sukkah.
Sukkot also marks a change in mood, following the holidays that fall during the month of Tishrei. After Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, holidays of awe and solemnity, we have Sukkot, a holiday on which we are commanded to be happy and rejoice. The Chida, R’ Chaim Yosef David Azulay, writes that there is a significance to the juxtaposition of the holidays.
During Sukkot, we are commanded to leave our homes and move to a temporary dwelling outdoors. The Chida says this move sends a strong message to us. We have just celebrated the holidays of Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur, days during which we have spoken about spiritual matters and how they need to be primary in our lives, so that we may dedicate ourselves to serving Hashem instead of our passions. We have asked forgiveness for our pursuit of earthly pleasures.
The Sukkah now highlights what we have just been contemplating, reminding us that our life in this world, like our dwelling in the Sukkah, is only temporary. Hashem is giving us a booster shot, so to speak, so that after the serious thoughts and emotions of the High Holidays have slipped away, the Sukkah reminds us again of our decision to pursue the spiritual. When we sit in the Sukkah, we strengthen our resolve to do what is right by reminding ourselves that our goal is to prepare ourselves, through our accomplishments in this world, for our Next Life in Olam Habbah.
The Sukkah has further significance, as the Torah tells us in Devarim (16:13): “You shall observe the Feast of Sukkot for seven days, after you have gathered in your grain and your wine.” Why do we observe Sukkot at harvest time? The Rashbam explains that the key to the answer is another reason the Torah gives for celebrating Sukkot in Vayikra (23:43): “That your generations may know that I made the people of Israel to dwell in booths, when I brought them out of the land of Egypt.”
When we sit in the Sukkah, the Torah tells us to remember that Hashem provided shelter for Bnei Yisrael for forty years after they left Egypt. The nation had no land to call their own and they had to wander and be sheltered by G-d. When we harvest our crops, we may tend to lose sight of how lucky we are that G-d provided for us. In Devarim 8:12, Hashem warns that when we make a lot of money and become successful in our businesses, we may become arrogant and think that “it was my power and the might of my hand” that brought us this wealth.
And that arrogance will make us forget Hashem, who, the Torah reminds us, “brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of slavery; who led you through that great and terrible wilderness, with snakes, vipers, scorpions and drought, who brought water for you out of solid rock, who fed you Mann in the desert, in order to afflict you and to test you, to benefit you in your end."
To make sure that we don't come to the point of denying G-d’s Providence, the Sukkah reminds us that just as Hashem provided for those who lived in the desert with only Sukkot to live in, so too does He provide for us in our harvest time. It is time to take a step back and not lose sight of the source of our livelihood. G-d gave us the holiday of Sukkot at this time when we are most likely to be blinded by the fact that at harvest time we get to see the fruits of our labor.
Eating and sleeping in the Sukkah is intended to assist us in clarifying our outlook on life. We must remember that life in this world is only temporary and that we can’t take anything with us. We also remember that all that we have, we received from Hashem. The Sukkah is a sanctuary of spirituality, and we must make sure that the message the Sukkah imparts remains with us during the long winter months, so that the type of year we asked Hashem for on Rosh Hashanah is the one that we'll merit.
A question is asked, why don’t we also celebrate the miracle of the Mann and the Water as we do the Clouds of Glory on Sukkot? The answer is that Hashem had to provide us with food and water for survival, but He did not have to take us First Class, and that’s what we are celebrating!
On Sukkot there is also a commandment to take of the four species and wave them together:
The Etrog, which both tastes and smells good.
The Lulav from a Date palm, which produces tasty fruit but not a pleasant aroma.
The Hadas stems, which are aromatic but not pleasant to eat.
The Willow stem, which has neither taste nor smell.
Among many other lessons, our Rabbis compare taste to the knowledge of Torah, and aroma to the good deeds performed by a person, which spread like a pleasant smell. In this way, the four species are comparable to those who have both spoken words of Torah and performed good deeds, those who have done one but not the other, and those who have done neither.
When we wave all four species together, if even one is missing, we are unable to fulfill this Mitzvah. We learn through this that every Jew is integral to the whole. After pondering our failings and inadequacy on Yom Kippur, the four species are a strong validation of our importance and self-worth.
On Sept 1st 1939, in the middle of the month of Elul, Germany attacked Poland. The bombardment continued for three weeks and didn't stop until just before Sukkot. As soon as there was a ceasefire, an amazing phenomenon happened: in spite of their bombed-out homes and devastation everywhere, the Jews of Poland ran out to build their Sukkot with whatever kosher materials they could find. Gratitude to Hashem is not conditional. Just as He was and is there for us always, our gratitude too Hashem will always prevail.
May we all truly appreciate all the good that Hashem has bestowed upon us our families and our community. May we have gratitude to Hashem for what He did for our ancestors in the desert over 3300 years ago and the Beracha that He bestows upon all of us to this very day and may we have a clear Torah understanding of the value of what our obligation is in this temporary world so that we can all earn a special place forever in Olam Habah! Amen!