Sukkos- Zman Simchaseinu, The Time of Our Happiness
Throughout the works of our Sages, we find that the holiday of Sukkos is
referred to as "Zman Simchaseinu," "The time of our happiness." While it is
true that the other of the Shalosh Regalim (Pilgrimage Festivals) are
referred to by similar descriptions, the connection between their common
names and the description is more readily apparent than by Sukkos. Pesach is
called "Zman Chayrusainu," "The time of our freedom, as it celebrates our
freedom from Egypt. Shavuos is called "Zman Mattan Toraseinu " The time of
our receiving the Torah," as it celebrates the day on which the nation of
Israel received the Torah. However, what joyous occasion does Sukkos
commemorate? What connection is there between happiness and building and
dwelling in a Sukkah?
The Vilna Gaon addresses another question. There is an opinion in the Talmud
(Sukkah 11b) that the Sukkah we build represents the Clouds of Glory, Ananei
HaKavod. These clouds surrounded the entire nation of Israel, and acted as a
protective barrier. (See vol. I: 46 for further information.) The nation of
Israel first became protected by the Ananai HaKavod, in the month of Nissan.
Why then, the Gaon asks, do we commemorate this gift of protection in the
month of Tishrei? He answers that when the nation of Israel sinned by
constructing the Egel HaZahav, the Golden Calf, the protective clouds were
removed. The clouds did not return until after Moshe had secured the complete
atonement of the nation of Israel, and the nation began to construct the
Mishkan, the Tabernacle. The date Moshe returned to the camp of Israel was
Yom Kippur, the 10th of Tishrei, and the nation began the construction of the
Mishkan on the 15th of Tishrei. For this reason, the Gaon writes, we
celebrate Sukkos on the 15th of Tishrei.
From this, we see that we are celebrating not just the gift of the protective
clouds, but the return of the clouds after the nation of Israel had sinned.
Indeed, one could understand that this would be a joyous time: a miraculous
form of protection which had been revoked was now returned. Furthermore, one
could understand why we are celebrating the holiday of Sukkos at the time we
do: after we have just experienced Yom Kippur, and we have been forgiven for
our sins, we celebrate the gift of the protective clouds which were returned
to Israel after they sinned. The events concerning the clouds happened at
this time of the year, and therefore we celebrate Sukkos at this time of the
year. Hence, there is a joy connected with the clouds, and the holiday is
aptly named the time of our happiness.
However, this leaves us with another question: If the clouds were taken away
from the nation of Israel because they sinned, why then did the clouds not
reappear when they were forgiven, on Yom Kippur? Why did the clouds return
only five days later?
Rabbeinu Yona, in his work Sha'arei Teshuva, writes that there is more to
forgiveness than meets the eye. It is possible that a person may have begged
G-d for forgiveness with all of his might, and that G-d forgave that
individual. That individual will receive no punishment for his wrongdoing.
However, this does not mean that this person has now once again found favor
in the eyes of G-d. G-d may not desire the prayers of this person, nor any
further gestures of devotion towards Him. In order to reach this next level
of forgiveness, a person must continue beseeching G-d's kindness and mercy.
He must continue to pray, to perform mitzvos, and increase his devotion to
G-d. A person will know that G-d has fully forgiven him when he finds himself
presented with the opportunities to do Mitzvos. When a person discovers that
Hashem is lending him a hand when it comes to listening the word of G-d, that
his urges to do wrong are not as powerful, that his desire to act correctly
has increased, he knows that his repentance has been accepted.
After G-d forgave the nation of Israel for the sin of the golden calf, He
wanted to finalize the forgiveness. He wanted to give the nation a
commandment where they would be able to demonstrate how great their closeness
was to Him. He commanded the nation to build the Mishkan. The construction
necessitated donations of personal wealth and of manual labor. Everyone was
able to contribute in some manner, shape, or form to the cause of the
Mishkan. Everyone did contribute, thereby demonstrating their dedication to
and love of Hashem. When the time came to actually construct the Mishkan, one
thing was clear: the nation of Israel had truly repented, and had made a
great effort to come close to G-d. It was at this point that the final
forgiveness came. Hashem returned the protective clouds to the nation, and
they began the construction of the Mishkan.
The joy that the nation of Israel experienced at this time was overwhelming.
They knew that their repentance had been completely accepted. They were
presented with an opportunity to serve G-d, to build the Mishkan. They had
the protective clouds back. They knew that they had again found favor in the
eyes of G-d. When we celebrate Sukkos, we are not merely commemorating the
joy experienced by our forefathers upon the return of the protective clouds.
We are in a time of joy ourselves! We have just gone through a repentance
process, and hope that we have found favor in G-d's eyes. Soon after the
holiest day of the year, G-d gives us an opportunity to perform many mitzvos:
to take the Lulav, to sit in the Sukkah, and to sanctify the holiday. We
ourselves should be overjoyed to find ourselves presented with all these
opportunities - it indicates that G-d has found favor with us!
For this reason, the Talmud in the tractate of Sukkah (28b) compares the
situation of rain during Sukkos to a servant who comes to pour a drink for
his master, and the master throws the water in the servant's face. Why is
this situation when we are unable to perform a Mitzvah different than any
other time when we are unable to perform a Mitzvah, to the extent that rain
during Sukkos is called a curse? It is precisely because of the fact that if
we are not presented with the opportunity to do this Mitzvah right after Yom
Kippur, it means that G-d is not happy with us. We have yet to find favor in
the eyes of G-d, and we therefore need to increase our prayers and repentance
efforts. We are not able to experience the same joy that our forefathers did.
Sukkos, as we know, is called the time of our happiness. This happiness is
one that our forefathers were privileged to experience. It is a time for us
to experience this same happiness. It is a time when we all can feel assured
that our prayers on Yom Kippur were fully accepted. It is a time when we can
rejoice as we perform the many Mitzvos associated with the holiday. We should
all take this opportunity to rejoice, to serve G-d with great happiness and
merriment. Sukkos should truly be the time of happiness for each and every
one of us.