For most holidays, the Torah reading is the narration of the events the
festival is commemorating. This past week's Yom Kippur reading detailed the
procedures for the special service in the Bais HaMikdash (Holy Temple in
Jerusalem). The Pesach reading recounts the Exodus from Egypt, and we read
of the Revelation at Sinai on Shavuos. Succos, though, does not honor one
particular event, so the reading comes from Parshas Emor, where all of the
holy days are discussed in the middle of a narration of numerous facets of
"On the fifteenth day of [Tishrei] is the festival of Succos, a seven day
period for Hashem." (Vayikra/Leviticus 23:34). It is noteworthy that the
Torah calls this holiday "Succos" (plural of succah) but has not, at this
point, explained why a succah is germane to the celebration. It is not until
the end of the narrative, even after the discussion of the mitzvah of the
Four Species, in verses 42 and 43, that it is related, "You shall dwell in
booths ("succos") for a seven day period...So that your generations will
know that I caused the Children of Israel to dwell in booths when I took
them out of the land of Egypt." If our observance of dwelling in booths is
the focus of the festival, these closing verses are out of place; they
should be at the opening.
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (1895-1986; Rosh Yeshiva/Dean of Mesivtha Tifereth
Jerusalem in New York City; the leading Halachic/Jewish legal decisor and
foremost leader of Torah Jewry of his time) explains that the concept of
"succah" - living in a transient, temporary abode - is not novel to the Jew.
Essential to our faith is the precept that our daily existence in this world
is given to us as our chance to perfect our spiritual selves and develop a
G-d consciousness by utilizing mitzvah opportunities and studying Torah.
Furthermore, since the physical trappings of our existence in this world are
given to us as aids to achieving our spiritual objectives, there should be
no discomfort when we spend money or utilize assets for the fulfillment of
mitzvos or giving of charity; this is ultimately why we were given these
Therefore, concludes Rabbi Feinstein, the concept of "succos" is not new, as
it is lived everyday, no matter where we find ourselves. The festival of
Succos was given to us to help concretize and fortify this tenet in a
practical, substantive way.
This understanding also offers a deeper insight as to why we are forbidden
from residing in the succah when it is extremely uncomfortable, such as when
it is raining or very cold. If the essence of the succah is to teach the
perspective to be maintained through our daily lives - which includes the
mindset that our assets should never be the cause for a sense of discomfort
because they are all a temporary means to a greater end - then that lesson
cannot be learned when the succah is physically uncomfortable.
The famed Chofetz Chaim (Rabbi Yisrael Meir HaKohen Kagan of Radin;
1838-1933; author of basic works in Jewish law, philosophy and ethics and
renowned for his saintly qualities) once welcomed a visitor into his home.
The visitor was somewhat surprised to see the Spartan conditions in which
this renowned leader of Torah Judaism lived, with only a simple wooden table
and some benches furnishing the main room of the simple house. When asked
what bothered him, the guest blurted out, "Where is your furniture?" Rabbi
Kagan responded, "Where is yours?" The visitor answered, "I am only a guest
here. I didn't bring any furniture." To which the Chofetz Chaim replied, "I,
too, am only a guest in this world. My most prized possessions, my Torah
learning and mitzvos, are waiting for me in my real home in the World to
Our liturgy refers to the festival of Succos as "the time of our happiness".
After the teshuva (return to G-d) of the month of Elul, the recognition of
G-d as our Father and King on Rosh HaShanah and the spiritual cleansing of
Yom Kippur, we now have seven days to enjoy and revel in our new
relationship with our Father in Heaven. The blessings we asked for on the
High Holy Days are not an end to themselves. The succah reminds us that we
must not to become distracted by the temporal; we must keep our focus on our
ultimate objective of building the bond.