The Tur (1) writes that the mitzvah (Divine command) to dwell in Succah
booths derives from our forefather Yaakov (Jacob), whom the Torah says
"built himself a house, and for his livestock he made succos (shelters)."
(Beraishis/Genesis 33:17). What connection is there between the current
festival and the huts Yaakov made for his animals?
Our Sages teach us that prior to Yaakov's struggle with the angel (ibid
32:25-33) he found himself alone, away from his family, retracing his steps
to retrieve some small jars he left behind. It was then that the angel -
Esau's guardian angel, Satan himself - wrestled with him. What is the
connection between going back to retrieve the small jars and meeting this
"Yaakov remained alone for the sake of small jars: from here one sees that
to the righteous, their possessions are dearer to them than their body, for
they do not stretch out their hand to theft." (Talmud Chulin 91a) Rabbi
Matisyahu Salomon (2) explains the central focus of a righteous person is
his service of G-d. Thus, he spends only requisite time to make a living to
provide his family with the necessities and, of course, he does not earn
livelihood dishonestly. Every penny he has is hard earned and he knows
it is a Divine gift. He understands that every possession he owns is meant
to facilitate his service to G-d. With this perspective, his possessions
are very dear to him.
Tanna Devei Eliyahu expounds that the difference between Yaakov and Esav
(Esau) was that Yaakov, even from the womb, wanted Olam Haba, the
exclusively spiritual World to Come, whereas Esav pursued the pleasures of
the physical world. The entire confrontation between Yaakov and Esav's
angel is rooted in this concept. When Esav's guardian angel saw Yaakov
retracing his steps to retrieve the jars, he thought that perhaps Yaakov
excessively invested in his possessions. He would then be able to
and destroy Yaakov, for Yaakov was "stealing" from Esav's portion. When
angel saw that Yaakov intended to retrieve only what he needed to help get
to Olam Haba, the angel struck the socket of Yaakov's thigh, representative
of his offspring. The angel could not overpower Yaakov but he could strike
against his future generations.
To safeguard his future generations, Yaakov immediately taught his progeny
to avoid Esav's pursuit of physical pleasures - and G-d gave us the
of Succos to reinforce the lesson annually. He "built himself a house, and
for his livestock he made shelters." He built himself a permanent structure
as a place to study Torah, but temporary shelters for his possessions, to
emphasize to all of us that our only true permanent possession is our G-d
connectedness that we take with us to our spiritual eternity. Our material
possessions of this world are simply a means toward that higher goal.
Have a Good Shabbos and Good Yom Tov!
(1) Rabbi Yaakov, son of the Rosh; c 1275 - c 1340; author of the Arba
Turim, the halachic (Jewish legal) opus that restructured the legal rulings
of the Talmud, reorganizing them topically, creating a superstructure that
remains the standard for halachic works
(2) Mashgiach Ruchni/Spiritual Mentor of Beth Medrash Govoha in Lakewood,