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Sukkos 5759 - '98

Outline Vol. 2, # 48

by Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein

Chodshei Hashanah Vol. 2, Part 31

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, Pachad Yitzchak)

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 prophecy.

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

Good Shabbos!

Text Copyright © '98 Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein and Project Genesis, Inc.

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