The Rambam writes at the end of Hilchos Sukkah (8:12) that “even though there is a positive commandment to be joyful on the holiday of Sukkos, there was a heightened celebration in the Bais Hamikdosh to fulfill the posuk of ‘Usemachtem lifnei Hashem…’”
He continues, “It is a mitzvah to partake in the special joy, but not everyone who wanted to do so was able to, nor were they ignorant. Only the great men of Yisroel, the heads of the yeshivos, the Sanhedrin, chassidim, zekainim and anshei ma’aseh were the ones who sang and danced and created simchah in the Bais Hamikdosh during the days of Sukkos. The rest of the nation, the men and the women, came to see and hear” (8:14).
Why, if there is a mitzvah to be especially joyful on Sukkos, was it only the talmidei chachomim who danced? Why did everyone else just watch the gedolim as they demonstrated extreme exuberance? Why didn’t the hamon am also sing and dance?
Let us analyze the special Yom Tov of Sukkos and, through a new understanding of the chag, perhaps understand the principles set forth by the Rambam.
The Tur (Orach Chaim 417) states that each of the Yomim Tovim is celebrated in the merit of one of our forefathers, the avos. Sukkos is keneged Yaakov Avinu, as the posuk hints when it states, “Ulemikneihu asah sukkos.” [Interestingly, the Vilna Goan (Aderes Eliyohu, Parshas Bolok 22, 23), cites the posuk of “V’Yaakov nosa sukkosah” as an indication that the Yom Tov of Sukkos is connected to Yaakov.]
Yaakov Avinu is tied to Torah study. He is referred to as the “ish tam yosheiv ohalim,” for he dwelled in the tent of Torah, and famously studied Torah for fourteen years in the yeshiva of Shem v’Eiver. Since this chag is in his merit, it stands to reason that the joy expressed on this Yom Tov is the joy of Torah.
The Vilna Gaon states (Even Sheleimah 11:14-15) that everything that transpires during the month of Tishrei hints to the World to Come. First there is the Day of Judgment, Rosh Hashanah. Then all sins are forgiven on Yom Kippur. Finally, there is the great joy of Sukkos and Shemini Atzeres/Simchas Torah. The future will mirror this. First there will be the Day of Judgment and then the realization of the pesukim, “Vezorakti aleichem mayim tehorim,” and, “Ki eslach la’asher ashear.” Then there will be Sukkos, as the posuk says, “Vesukkah tihiyeh letzeil yomam,” referring to the time of simchah. This will be followed by Shemini Atzeres, when the deniers of Hashem’s existence will disappear and Klal Yisroel will celebrate, “Atzeres tihiyeh lochem.”
They will then partake in the joyous meal of the Livyoson, brought about by the tremendous amount of knowledge that will then flow into the world, as Moshe Rabbeinu, who is referred to as Livyoson, reveals the secrets of the Torah.
Hakadosh Boruch Hu will bring joy to the tzaddikim by being mechadeish for them chiddushei Torah, as the posuk states, “Vayechezu es haElokim vayochlu vayishtu.” This is what is referred to as the ohr haganuz, the hidden light, which will be revealed to the tzaddikim le’osid lavo.
In fact, the sefer Maaseh Rav (Sukkah 232) writes that the Vilna Gaon was very happy on Sukkos and even more so on Shemini Atzeres, because according to Kabbolah, there is a bigger mitzvah to be joyous at that time. The Tosafos Maaseh Rav states that on the seven days of Sukkos, the korbanos hachag are keneged the seventy nations, and Shemini Atzeres is akin to the World to Come, when no strangers will interfere with our simchah, just as no strangers have any relationship with the Torah.
From this we see that the joy of Sukkos is akin to the joy of what will transpire at the End of Days. That joy, as we see, will be caused by the revelation of the ohr haganuz and the wealth of Torah that will be studied with the tzaddikim. The great men of the Jewish nation, in turn, will share their newfound knowledge with the rest of Am Yisroel.
Perhaps this is the reason that the tzaddikim danced in the Bais Hamikdosh on Sukkos as the rest of the nation watched. They knew that what was transpiring is a hint to what will transpire after the redemption. They demonstrated that they believed in the future of Am Yisroel, when the ohr haganuz will be revealed to the tzaddikim, who will engage in the joyful study of Torah with Hakadosh Boruch Hu Himself. The joy of the tzaddikim was a precursor of the great joy that they will experience after the arrival of Moshiach. The joy of the nation was in showing that they share that belief in netzach Yisroel and eagerly await the day that the neviim foresaw: “Ki oz ehpoch el kol ho’amim sofah berurah likroh kulom b’sheim Hashem, l’ovdo shechem echod,” Tzefania (3, 9). “Vehaya kol hanosar m’kol hagoyim haboim al Yerushalayim, v’alu midei shana b’shana lehishtachavos l’melech Hashem Tzvakos velachog es chag haSukkos, (Zechariah 14, 16).” All the nations of the world will join to bow to Hashem and celebrate Sukkos with us.
That, additionally, is the reason why on every day of Sukkos, fewer cows are offered as korbanos than on the prior day. Since the korbanos are keneged the amim, and since, le’osid lavo, the amim will admit to Hashem’s Kingship, therefore when we bring fewer korbanos each day, we are hinting to the period to which Shemini Atzeres alludes, when the beliefs of the nations will be acknowledged as fictitious and the sheker in the world will be diminished, as foretold by the neviim.
Returning to the relationship between simchah and Sukkos, we have to examine the statement of Chazal that someone who did not witness the Simchas Bais Hashoeivah never saw real simchah. What is the tremendous joy evoked by the simchah of drawing water for the korban of nisuch hamayim and what is the connection of Sukkos to water?
We have already discussed that the Yom Tov of Sukkos is keneged Yaakov, and that Yaakov’s middah was Torah.
We all know that Torah is compared to water, as evidenced in the posuk (Yeshayahu 55:1) which advises, “Kol tzomei lechu lamayim – All those who are thirsty should drink water.” The advice refers to Torah. Those who are thirsty for knowledge are counseled to seek out the Torah.
Moshe Rabbeinu was the person anointed by Hashem to bring us the Torah. His very name and essence were derived from water, as the posuk states, “Vatikra shemo Moshe, ki min hamayim mishisiyhu.” However, Moshe erred with water when he hit the rock that delivered water to the Jews in the desert instead of speaking to it.
Perhaps Sukkos is a tikkun, a rectification, of that mistake. Therefore, we draw water and pour it at the mizbei’ach, seeking to trigger great celebration. The joy is brought about from the tikkun of that cheit, rectifying the mistake Moshe made when he took his stick and hit the rock, instead of speaking to it, as Hashem had commanded.
Interestingly, Moshe’s stick was the stick of Yaakov. It was regarding this stick that the posuk quotes Yaakov as he thanked Hashem for His kindness upon leaving the house of Lovon: “Ki bemakli ovarti es hayardein, v’achshov hayisi lishnei machanos.” Yaakov recalls how, upon going into exile as he fled his brother Eisov, he possessed that stick, and with it he succeeded in crossing the Yardein River.
Thus, on Sukkos, when we pray for water, we beseech Hashem to remember Yaakov, the same Yaakov in whose zechus we celebrate the Yom Tov. In Tefillas Geshem, we state, “Zechor to’an maklo v’avar Yardein mayim – Hashem, please remember the one who took his stick and crossed the water of the Yardein River… Ba’avuro al timna moyim – In his merit don’t hold back the water from us.”
We ask Hashem to look aside from Moshe Rabbeinu’s error and pardon him for what he did. We say, “Look to Yaakov, who acted properly with that same stick; successfully crossed the river, and removed the stone that prevented the flocks from drinking from the be’er mayim.”
Ein mayim ela Torah. Allegorically, water represents Torah. We have seen that Sukkos signifies the World to Come after the geulah, when the truths and essence of Torah will be revealed. We ask Hashem to look past Moshe’s cheit and allow us to benefit from Torah, which is epitomized by Yaakov, who is keneged Sukkos.
As I was thinking these thoughts and wondering if there was any point to them, I came across an amazing chapter from the Vilna Gaon’s talmid, Rav Yitzchok Eizik Chover, published in the recently released Miluei Even on Even Sheleimah. This is what he says:
“The main cause of the current golus is the sin of misusing the gift of speech for lashon hora and sinas chinom, which is brought about by bittul Torah. As Chazal say (Eiruchin 15b) on the posuk in Mishlei (15:4), ‘Marpeh lashon eitz chaim – The tree of life heals the lashon.’ What should a person do to ensure that he doesn’t speak lashon hora? He should toil in Torah.
“Therefore, this golus was brought about because the Jews caused Moshe to sin with the stone and not speak to it… The water in the stone is the sod of Torah, as indicated by the Zohar. Because Moshe did not speak to the stone, forgetfulness of Torah was caused, as I have explained elsewhere. The stone became blocked and it is difficult to study Torah without great exertion.”
From here we see clearly the connection between Moshe and water and golus, which we discussed. But there is an even stronger connection.
Rav Dovid Tevel, prime student of Rav Chaim of Volozhin and author of the classic sefer Nachlas Dovid, writes the following in his drush sefer, Bais Dovid (chapter 10): “I heard in the name of the Vilna Gaon…that mitzvas sukkah combats the yeitzer of lashon hora.” After a detailed discussion, he concludes, “Thus, Sukkos is keneged the final redemption, because at that time, the sin of lashon hora will be rectified.”
This is proof to our discussion that Sukkos is keneged Yaakov, who optimized Torah. Sukkos hints to the period after Moshiach, when the joy of Torah will be shared between Hakadosh Boruch Hu and the tzaddikim. The cheit of Moshe will then be repaired and he will serve as the Livyoson, sharing the sodos of Torah with the tzaddikim. The blockage that was caused when he hit the rock will be cleared, because the Bnei Yisroel will have returned to Torah, and through the merit of Torah they will be redeemed.
This is the explanation of what Rav Chaim of Volozhin writes in Nefesh Hachaim (4:31): “The main path to teshuvah mei’ahavah is through proper Torah study, as first we say, ‘Hashiveinu Ovinu leSorasecha,’ and then, ‘Vehachazireinu beseshuvah sheleimah lefonecha.’”
Through our acts of teshuvah throughout the period of the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah, we arrive at Sukkos returned to the Torah, for that is what we worked on during the 40-day period beginning with Rosh Chodesh Elul. We are able to connect to the zechus of Yaakov, which is Torah. Since we have fortified our connection with Torah, on Sukkos we can combat the sin of lashon hora. Now that we have the ability to beat back the sin of lashon hora, we can merit the geulah, because the golus was caused by lashon hora, which we are now empowered to rid from ourselves. Thus, we can begin to contemplate the World to Come, when Moshiach will arrive and the tzaddikim will joyously study Torah with Hashem.
So, on Sukkos, we draw the water and bring the korban nisuch hamayim, because the blockage to Torah, signified by water, will be repaired. We are all joyous. The tzaddikim, who will benefit first from the ohr haganuz, are enraptured, for on Sukkos they can taste that great day and already feel its joy. The amcha, everyone else, stands, watching and listening, waiting for the tzaddikim to share the new knowledge with them. The joy is akin to that which will be brought to the world with the geulah, which will be bezechus haTorah, hanimshol lemayim. Thus, we say, “Mi shelo ra’ah simchas Bais Hashoeivah lo ra’ah simchah miyomov,” for the closest experience we have in this world to that which will take place when Moshiach comes is at the Bais Hamikdosh, when the water flows.
May we merit partaking in the joy of that great day very soon.