The holiday of Sukkos starts on the 15th day of Tishrei. The holiday of Sukkos is
characterized by the unique commandment of dwelling in Sukkos - temporary,
hut-like dwellings, as the Torah says in Vayikra (23: 42-43 ) "In booths you
are to dwell for seven days ...so that your generations will know that I
caused the children of Israel to dwell in booths when I took them from the
land of Egypt...."
The Sages in the tractate of Succah (11b) disagree as to what the "booths"
that the Israelites dwelt in refer to. Rabi Eliezer says that these booths
are a reference to the miraculous "Ananai HaKavod," the "Clouds of Glory,"
with which G-d surrounded the Israelites throughout their forty year sojourn
in the desert after having left Egypt. These clouds protected the Israelites
from the elements and the hot desert floor, kept the Jews' clothing clean,
and guided the nation of Israel through the desert. Rabi Akiva maintains,
however, that these "booths" refer to the actual booths or huts that the
Israelites built while in the desert to serve as their dwellings.
The Aruch HaShulchan (Orech Chayim 625 ) raises the following question:
Whereas Rabi Eliezer's booths were manifestations of a great miracle that G-d
performed for the Jews in the desert, and certainly merits a commandment
commemorating the infinite kindness and protection of G-d, Rabbi Akiva's
interpretation is most puzzling in light of the commandment to dwell in the
Sukkah. What is the significance of the huts that the Jews lived in while in
The Aruch HaShulchan answers his own question. According to Rabi Akiva, the
Succah commemorates the greatness of the Jewish people. Their faith in G-d
was so complete and so total that they traveled into the uninhabitable desert
wasteland at G-d's command. In this wasteland, the Jews did not even have
permanent dwellings, but merely booths, trusting in G-d that He would care
for their every need in the wilderness, which of course, He did.
Based on what we have seen, both Rabi Eliezer's and Rabi Akiva's
interpretation of the Israelite's "booths" in the desert relate our
observance of the commandment of Sukkos to G-d's miraculous protection of the
Jews during their forty year sojourn through the desert on route to the land
of Israel. This protection was not furnished only to the Jewish people while
in the desert, but in His infinite kindness, G-d has extended that protection
to our people throughout the ages. This special protection, symbolized by the
Sukkah, has ensured the continued existence and survival of the Jewish people
until this very day.