The festival of Sukkos follows the Yomim Nora’im
(Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur). For seven days, Jews live in temporary
dwellings. The four species (Lulav, esrog, hadasim and aravos) are waved.
It is a time of great rejoicing, followed by Shmini Atzeres and Simchas
Torah (which is a separate, ninth day, outside of Eretz Yisrael).
Since there are already several holidays at this
time of year, why does Sukkos come during the same month?
1. Complete happiness only comes when people are
free from guilt. The culmination of the simchah of Torah thus follows Yom
Kippur, when Israel is reconciled to Hashem. Consequently, great periods
of rejoicing occurred at this time, such as the building of the Beis Hamikdash
(in Jerusalem) and the Mishkan (in the desert). These, in turn, correspond
to the return of the Ananei Hakavod (the clouds of protection) -- indicative
of divine supervision -- which occurred at this time. (Alshich, Vilna Gaon,
2. Rabbenu Sadya Gaon considered the last days of
the Sukkos holiday the conclusion of the Yomim Nora’im -- Rosh Hashanah
and Yom Kippur. Indeed, the Mishnah in Rosh Hashanah states that judgment
concerning water is determined at Sukkos, and the Talmud says that the
four species are a tool used in praying for water.
Water is an analogy for blessings that descend from
above. The Simchas Beis Hasho’eiva (rejoicing over the water-pouring on
the altar) was actually a show of simchah for the Ruach Hakodesh or holy
spirit, which would descend on the prophets at this time. (Bnei Yisaschar)
3. There is an opinion that the Sukkah represents
the temporary structures that the Jews constructed in the desert. According
to this view, the structures were made at this time of year, to protect
from the cold. (Ramban).
Although all the commentaries conclude in accordance
with the view that the Sukkah represents the clouds, the Chaye Adom said
that both views were compatible. Divre Yoel and Leket Shoshanim, in our
generation, provided explanations of this.
The tribe of Dan were excluded from the protection
of the clouds, so they had to make their own huts. Any particular individual
today would not know if he would merit the clouds’ defense, so we recall
both the clouds and the huts. (See Leket Shoshanim 40-41.)
The Divre Yoel (Mo’adim, Part 2, 7-8) showed how
the Jews left the protection of the clouds at certain times. They must
have built their own protective coverings then. If so, both opinions agree
that there were both protective clouds and huts. Their debate is only in
regard to the main purpose for the mitzva of the Sukkah -- to remind us
of the clouds, or to remind us of the huts. (There is a legal difference
between them: the types of materials which can be used to cover the Sukkah
[called the "skach"].)
The dual aspect of the Sukkah -- reminding us of
both the booths made by people, and the protection from above, are similar
to the two types of occurrence that happened at this time of year: The
physical construction of the Beis Hamikdash and the Mishkan, and the granting
from above of the divine protection of Hashem’s cloud and the spirit of
4. Further, there is a aspect of atonement. The Medrash
indicates that there is a cleansing element of Sukkos. "Why are Sukkos
built after Yom Kippur? Perhaps he was found guilty and deserving of exile."
Therefore, we leave the comfort of our houses and go into a voluntary state
of exile. (See Elya Raba)
5. The first day of Sukkos is the first day of accounting
towards next year’s judgment. (Medrash Tanchuma, Emor, 22; also see Kli
Yakar to parshas Vayeilech re: Hakheil.)
How can we reconcile the diverse aspects of Sukkos
-- the joy with the judgment, accounting and hardship of the exile?
It is clear from the above descriptions, that Sukkos
is a time of closeness and favor. Corresponding to such closeness, is a
time of scrutiny. Once elevated to a lofty position, a person should be
even more concerned about his conduct and character. He should see his
position as a responsibility; his duty as an exile from his comforts. He
should rejoice in fulfilling his purpose, and see any accumulated benefits
as tools designed to aid the fulfillment of this role.
The temporary structure of the Sukkah reminds us
to keep our perspective in dedicating the temporary world to the lasting
goals of the spirit.
Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein
11 Kiryas Radin
Spring Valley, NY 10977
Phone: (914) 362-5156