By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
Sukkos is a special Yom Tov. While there is an obligation to be joyous on every chag, Sukkos achieves distinction and is singled out as Zeman Simchoseinu. What is it about Sukkos that gives it this added title?
We are always supposed to be happy. Every mitzvah should be performed with joy. What is special about Sukkos that creates such simcha amongst the Jewish people?
One of the most famous teachings of the Vilna Gaon is a lesson he imparted shortly before his passing on Sukkos. As he lay on his deathbed, he looked at those gathered around him, held his tzitzis, and tearfully said, “I am leaving a world where these are available for next to nothing and I am going to a world where mitzvos are no longer accessible.”
This famous story answers the question. We live in a world bursting with opportunities to acquire eternity. With small amounts of money or effort, we can gain for ourselves priceless eternity. How can we not be happy when we ponder the thought that for a few dollars, we can buy threads and fashion them into tzitzis on our begodim?
What a happy world this is! What a joyous place it is to be. We are surrounded by opportunities to transform the mundane into nitzchiyus. Sukkos is Zeman Simchoseinu because of the many examples it bears, reminding us of this truth and enabling us to benefit from it.
Sukkos follows the Yomim Noraim because our forefathers sinned with the Eigel in the midbar and lost the protection of the Shechinah. They were forgiven on Yom Kippur, and on Sukkos the Ananei Hakavod returned and surrounded them, sheltering them from their enemies and the elements.
On Yom Kippur, the hashpa’ah of the selichah of the original day of forgiveness in the desert is renewed, and following our teshuvah, we are forgiven for our sins just as our forefathers were. On Sukkos, we once again merit the protection of the Ananei Hakavod in the form of the tzeila demehemnusah that hovers over our sukkos.
This is the meaning of the Zohar (3:103) which states, “Ta chazi, beshaata da tzila demehemnusah shechintah parsa gadfa alei mele’aila – When a person enters the sukkah, the Shechinah spreads its wings over him.” The Vilna Gaon expresses the concept a bit differently, saying that the posuk in Shir Hashirim (1:4) of “Heviani haMelech chadorov – The King [Hashem] brought me into his room” refers to the sukkah.
The Gemara in Maseches Sukkah (9a) derives from the korban chagigah that just as a korban becomes sanctified when the makriv says, “Korban laShem,” so too, the walls and covering of the sukkah are holy and sanctified for the duration of Sukkos.
Sukkos is the Yom Tov of simcha because it demonstrates that we have the ability to transform the mundane into the spiritual. Our lives have meaning because our actions can bring about holiness. The Vilna Gaon regretted leaving behind the simcha of life when we can so easily accrue not only meaning, but also value to ourselves and to the world.
We invest but a few dollars and the returns on our investment are a thousand-fold. We enable people to study Torah, we enable a poor family to have food and new clothing for Yom Tov, with a mere smile we cheer up others, and our accounts become flush.
We are not animalistic creatures, who spend their time foraging for food and a comfortable place to sleep, for we are granted intelligence and the ability to speak. When we do a mitzvah, we strengthen the world. We raise ourselves and the level of the keili we are using to perform the act of the mitzvah.
We take simple wooden boards and place bamboo atop them, fashioning a house for Hashem, where He covers and protects us with His shadow. We can assume that just as we are able to create a house for Hashem on our porch, infusing kedusha into simple building materials, we can certainly raise our bodies – which are blessed with a neshomah, nefesh and ruach – to that lofty level. This is the depth of the words that the paytan Rav Elazar Azkiri wrote hundreds of years ago in the holy city of Tzefas: “Besoch libi mishkan evneh – I will build a mishkon in my heart.” If boards can be elevated and planks transformed, then man can surely become a pillar of holy fire.
A Jew is overcome with joy when he enters the sukkah and realizes that it is suffused with holiness, as was the mishkon. He comprehends that he has the ability to construct a place of holiness within himself. He is overcome with joy as he realizes his potential. We may become dejected when we think we are stuck at a low level. A person becomes sad when he believes that he can’t excel and rise. When we enter the sukkah and are enveloped in kedusha in a simple room we constructed, we become energized as we appreciate our potential. Nobody has to stay down forever. Everyone, including us, can improve and achieve great heights.
It’s interesting that the s’chach, the covering that gives the sukkah its name and its status, is created out of p’soles goren veyekev, the castoffs and rejects of the threshing floor and wine pit (Rashi, Devorim 16:13). The husks lifted from the ground grace the sukkah, forming its crown, to symbolize that following Yom Kippur, we have also risen anew and have the capacity to again be the prince among the nations.
What is the enduring symbol of the Jewish people in golus? Is it the shtender upon which Jews have proclaimed their fidelity to Hashem and his Torah? Is it the menorah that we kindle, keeping alive the promise to Aharon Hakohein at the chanukas haMishkon? Is it the picture of cherubic children, demonstrating that after all we have been through, we are optimistic about the future as expressed by the devotion of our beloved progeny?
The sukkah is a strong contestant. The haunting, a-little-bit-sad, a-little-bit-happy tune of Ah Sukkale Ah Kleine would be its anthem. The beautiful, classic Yiddish tune tells the tale of a man who made a sukkah out of a few wooden boards and covered it with some green s’chach branches. As he sits there the first night making Kiddush, a bitter wind blows, threatening the flickering candles. To his amazement, as he makes Kiddush, the lights continue to burn and give forth their light.
His daughter comes running, shrieking that the wind will topple the sukkah. “Have no fear,” he tells her. “The sukkah is already standing for 2,000 years. The winds that are blowing, which you are so afraid of, will calm and dissipate, but our sukkale will remain strong.”
Some of us fear for our future. Others think it’s all over. The goyim hack at us from all sides. Enemies from within eat away at our traditions. We have repeatedly been written off. Have no fear, the sukkah says, as it shines upon the golus with the eternal light.
Each morning of Yom Tov, we happily and proudly carry the daled minim aloft to shul, demonstrating our joy that we were found virtuous during the yemei hadin and are prepared to live life on a higher plane. We take a fruit and branches and turn them into cheftzei mitzvah with many deep spiritual meanings. We take simple, inanimate objects that most of the world has no use for and transform them into the beloved Daled Minim.
With this, we can understand the simcha of the Bais Hashoeivah, which the Mishnah (Sukkah 5:2) and Gemara (Sukkah 52a) describe as the greatest joy ever witnessed by man. What happened at the Bais Hashoeivah?
Water was drawn from a spring and brought to the Bais Hamikdosh. Nothing is more available than water. Not only is water abundant, but it is also odorless, shapeless, and easily accessible.
The joy was brought on by the people realizing that Jews can take simple water and raise it to the highest level of kedusha as an offering in the Bais Hamikdosh. Recognizing that they could affect the transition of one of the lowest forms of creation to the highest, brought unparalleled happiness and joy to the Jewish people.
Sukkos provides us the perspective and attitude that allow the simcha to carry over into the long winter ahead. The winds will blow and the lights will flicker, but as long as we remain kedoshim, clinging to the mitzvos, we will persevere.
So often, we get overwhelmed by olam hazeh and the physical aspects of our lives. We ponder the purpose of all that we experience. We become frustrated as the mundane humdrum of life wears us out, for we don’t comprehend the purpose of all that we endure. We feel as if we are going in circles. And then Yom Tov arrives.
On Sukkos, we take a fruit and a stick, which become cheftzei mitzvah that are mashpia bechol ha’olamos. We combine boards and bamboo to create a home where the Shechinah rests. We see that our actions have positive effects and create heavenly places for us to live in. Our feelings of futility disappear, as our inner thirst for spirituality is fed and nourished.
Look at who we are!
There is another reason for the joy. The Sefas Emes writes (634) that the sukkah is akin to a chupah that completes the union between a bride and a groom. Just as the chosson brings his kallah under his roof, Hashem completes his renewed relationship with the Bnei Yisroel through the sukkah. While this is another explanation for the holiness of the sukkah, it also provides us with a reason for the joy of the Yom Tov.
We can add that the joy of Sukkos is akin to that which is present at a chupah, with the simcha on the individual days akin to that of the shivas yemei hamishteh, when the chosson and kallah refrain from work so that they can celebrate their marriage. Just as at every one of the sheva brachos there is a new guest, so do we welcome the Ushpizin into our sukkos. Each night, there is a ponim chadashos, relating to a different bechinah of our relationship with Hashem.
As we invite the exalted guests each night, we are reminded of our relationship with Hashem and the holiness of the sukkah, which symbolizes the chupah, and our ability to proactively raise ourselves and the level of everything around us.
Rav Chaim Volozhiner writes in Nefesh Hachaim (1:4) that no Jew should ever say to himself that he is useless and has no power to accomplish anything with his daily activities. Every action we undertake, every word we utter, and every thought we bear can accomplish great things in the upper worldly spheres.
Rav Yisroel Elya Weintraub, in his peirush Yiras Chaim, explains this idea and says that at the root of human failing is a person’s feeling that his actions have no intrinsic value. It is such insecure thinking that leads man to forsake the proper path and engage in sin. If people would be secure in the knowledge of the impact of their actions, they would not sin.
Rav Chaim Volozhiner explains that this is the meaning of the Mishnah in Pirkei Avos (2:1) which states, “Da mah lemaalah mimcha – know what is above you.” Know, the Mishnah exhorts us, that what transpires in the heavenly realms is a result of your actions in this world. It’s all mimcha.
Perhaps we can apply that Mishnah to our lesson from the sukkah. Know what is above you. As you sit in the sukkah and look up, know that your actions have caused the Shechinah to hover above you. Know that what you do has significance. Know that you have the power with your actions to dwell in the shadow of Hashem. Know that you have intrinsic value. Remember that you can cause world-altering changes. Know that nothing you do is wasted. It is all for a purpose.
There is nothing that brings more joy to a person than recognizing that he has value, that his internal battles have heavenly ramifications, and that he can beat back melancholy and apathy, accomplishing plenty.
The kohein gadol uses his precious moments in the Kodesh Hakodoshim on Yom Kippur to offer a few tefillos. What does the holiest man, in the holiest place, at the holiest time, ask for? Among a few other requests, he asks that the prayers of travelers not be accepted. Klal Yisroel needs rain for the crops to grow. Travelers would likely pray for clear weather to ease their trek.
The Alter of Kelm explained that this underscores the power of the simple tefillah offered by an ordinary traveler who looks at the cloudy sky and says, “Oy, Ribbono Shel Olam, please do not let it rain.” That heartfelt request is so effective that it is able to negate the communal need for rain were the kohein gadol himself, on Yom Kippur, not to ask Hashem to ignore the request of the simple man with a sack over his shoulder.
A marvelous creation, the Jew. His every action and deed is loaded with significance and power.
The Torah tells us (Vayikra 23:42) to dwell in the sukkah on Sukkos: “Basukkos teishvu shivas yomim, you shall dwell in the sukkah for seven days, kol ha’ezrach b’Yisroel yeishvu basukkos.” The posuk then continues with the explanation as to why we are to dwell in the sukkah for seven days. It is “lemaan yeidu doroseichem ki basukkos hoshavti es Bnei Yisroel behotzie osam mei’eretz Mitzrayim, so that the generations will know that Hashem fashioned sukkos for the Bnei Yisroel when he removed them from Mitzrayim.”
Regarding Pesach, the posuk (Shemos 13:8) says, “Vehigadeta levincha bayom hahu leimor, and you shall tell your son” the tale of Yetzias Mitzrayim. On Pesach, much time is spent transmitting the message that Hashem expunged us from Mitzrayim and performed many miracles during our exile there and upon our redemption. In fact, the entire Seder is constructed around that message, and we do our best to make it come alive through interesting questions and conversation.
Why do we make such a big deal about the mitzvah of sippur Yetzias Mitzrayim to our children on Pesach and not on Sukkos? It is true that poskim discuss whether you can fulfill the obligation of mitzvas sukkah without articulating the reason for the obligation, but, by and large, the issue is barely discussed in the sukkah. Why is that?
If we examine the posuk in Shemos closely, we will note that it does not command us to discuss the reason for the sukkah with the generations. Rather, the posuk is stating a fact: Sit in the sukkah so that you will know that Hashem created sukkos for the Jews when He took them out of Mitzrayim.
When a Jew sits in the sukkah and the Shechinah hovers above him, and he is enlightened by the ohr hamakif that is present in the sukkah, he is enveloped in holiness, unlike at any other time of the year. The guf and neshomah perceive on their own the tzeila demehemnusa and know that the Shechinah and ohr hamakif that returned to the Bnei Yisroel in the midbar on Sukkos are empowered once again in our day on Sukkos in our own sukkah. We don’t need anyone to tell us about it. It is in our DNA. We feel and perceive it through our emunah and bitachon, appreciating that we are Hashem’s chosen nation. He watches over us and protects us at all times, most evidently and conspicuously on Sukkos.
One of the Slonimer rebbes met a Jewish cantonist soldier on Sukkos. The unfortunate young man was one of those children who were torn away at a young age and conscripted for so long that he had just a vague memory of what he learned in cheder. He was separated from his family for so long that he had forgotten most of which he learned and loved. He possessed faint memories of a life gone by.
The rebbe looked at the soldier and told him, “Your face has a special glow. Please tell me what zechus you have. Which mitzvah did you perform to merit this?”
The simple soldier shrugged. He said that he had done very little. His job involved standing watch for long hours at a time, and in his free time he could do little more than rest in the barracks. “I’m sorry, rebbe, but I can’t think of any special mitzvah that I did.”
When the rebbe persisted, the soldier told him that over Sukkos, he had managed to eat one small meal in a sukkah. He said that on the first night of Sukkos, he felt a pull to eat in a sukkah. He asked a fellow soldier to stand guard for him, switching rotations so he could take a break. He hurried to the Jewish section of town and found a home with a sukkah behind it. He knocked on the door and asked the family if he might join them. They were thrilled to welcome and befriend a cantonist. They helped the unlearned soldier recite Kiddush and recite the brocha of leisheiv basukkah. He ate some challah and a piece of fish, and then hurriedly bentched and returned to his post.
“That’s it, rebbe. It was nothing special,” he said.
“What did you do when you returned to the base?” asked the rebbe.
The soldier looked down and said, “The truth is that I was so excited at having eaten in a sukkah that as I stood there back at the base all alone, I broke out in a spirited dance. I danced and I danced, so happy about what I had done.”
A poor cantonist, separated from Yiddishkeit and Yidden, made his way to a sukkah and, covered by the tzeila demehemnusah, blessed by the ohr hamakif, spontaneously broke out in joy and dance.
The Vilna Gaon (Shir Hashirim 1:4) teaches that the sukkah alludes to the status of Klal Yisroel after Moshiach’s arrival, at which time we will all be betzilah demehemnusah, as when we traveled through the desert on our way to Eretz Yisroel. Just as the sukkah symbolizes the Mishkan in the midbar where the Shechinah dwelled, so does it symbolize the Shechinah’s return to the rebuilt Bais Hamikdosh.
The Maharal, in his Shabbos Hagadol drasha, states that the third Bais Hamikdosh will be built to house the Shechinah in the merit of the Yom Tov of Sukkos.
May our post-Yom Kippur conduct and joyful observance of the mitzvos of Sukkos enable us to merit the arrival of Moshiach Tzidkeinu speedily in our day.
May we feel the simcha each time we enter the sukkah, every time we grasp the Daled Minim, every time we do a mitzvah, every time we appreciate that Hashem hovers over and protects us.
Chag Someiach. Have a great Yom Tov.