The Reason For Sitting In a Sukkah
The Gemorah tells us a Machlokes between Rebbe Akiva and Rebbe Eliezer regarding the reason why we sit in a Sukkah. Rebbe Akiva says that it is to remember the Sukkos that we stayed in when we went out of Mitzrayim. Rebbe Eliezer says it is to remember the 7 Clouds of Glory which surrounded us in the Midbar. According to the rules of the Gemorah whenever there is a Machlokes between Rebbe Akiva and Rebbe Eliezer the Halacha is like Rebbe Akiva. One of the main reasons given is because Rebbe Eliezer was a SHAMUTI. Meaning he was from the house of Bais Shammai and the Halacha is not like them or he was put into CHEREM and therefore the Halacha is not like him. Yet Rashi on the first Amud in Sukkah says that the reason that we sit in Sukkah is to commemorate the Clouds of Glory. In addition, this seems to be the standard reason given as opposed to the reason of Rebbe Akiva. Why is this? We have to look into the history of the Exodus for an answer.
When Bnai Yisroel first came out of Mitzrayim they used the temporary shelter of makeshift booths. Later on, when they were more established they had tents as we see Bilaam say “HOW GOODLY ARE YOUR TENTS YAAKOV”. When did they get the Clouds of Glory? We see when the Bnai Yisroel were trapped with their backs against the Yam Suf and the Mitzrim were in front of them, the Mitzrim started to shoot at them arrows and massive rock catapults that could have caused major destruction among a tight mass of people in such a small area. The Torah says that THE CLOUD THAT WENT BEFORE THEM TO GUIDE THEM WENT BEHIND THEM TO ABSORB THESE MISSLES. If they were already surrounded by the clouds of glory why was there a need for the LEADING CLOUD to move to the back? When is the first time we know for sure that they had the 7 Clouds? It happened after Kriyas Yam Suf by the attack of Amalek. The Possuk says that Amalek attacked “KOL HANECHESALIM ACHARECHA” and Chazal say they were the ones that the 7 Clouds of Glory spit out because of their spiritual weaknesses.
We see now that they had the clouds at this time. What was going on? The Novi said about Bnai Yisroel when they left Mitzrayim “I REMEMBER THE CHESSED OF YOUR YOUTH. YOU WENT AFTER ME INTO THE DESERT, A PLACE WITH NO CULTIVATED LANDS.” Even though Mitzrayim were bad, never the less, they had a roof over their heads and a steady supply of food and water. Going out into the desert with nothing, showed great BITACHON in Hashem. According to Rebbe Akiva the temporary Sukkos they built represented the Bitachon needed for Avodas Hashem. It represents the concept “Leave your permanent dwelling and go into a temporary one” It also represents the need to leave the hold that Olam Hazeh has on us in order to reach a higher level of Ruchniyous. That was step one. Step two was achieved by Kriyas Yam Suf. Chazal tell us that even a maidservant had a prophetic revelation that was greater than one of the greatest Neviim Yechezkel Ben Buzi. Once they reached this higher level they merited to be completely surrounded by holiness, the Clouds of Glory. That is step two. That is what Rebbe Eliezer is talking about.
The reality is that there is no Machlokes between Rebbe Akiva and Rebbe Eliezer. They are talking about the two different stages that Bnai Yisroel went through, that is represented by the Sukkah. What Bnai Yisroel went through when they left Mitzrayim is symbolic for us when we go on our journey for spiritual growth. Now we can understand why Rebbe Eliezer’s opinion is always quoted. His opinion is the final stage of growth that the Sukkah represents and the ultimate level that we should strive for.