Le’ilui nishmat Joseph Levy, A’H, and in honor of Mrs. Judith Levy by their children and grandchildren.
The wonderful holiday of Sukkot is marked by a unique command to “live” in the Sukkah. We are commanded to eat our meals in the Sukkah, and many people even sleep in the Sukkah.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks once said, “When I sit in a Sukkah, I think this is how our ancestors lived. Not just in the desert in the days of Moses, but more recently, when they didn’t know whether they’d still be somewhere from one year to the next or whether they’d be forced to move on. Between the expulsion from England, the eviction from Spain, and the horrors of the Holocaust, Jews know what it is like to have no fixed home: to know that the place you are living is just a temporary dwelling, which is exactly what a Sukkah is.”
“Vehayita ach sameach – And you should be solely in a state of happiness (Devarim 16:15).” On Sukkot, more so than any other holiday, we are supposed to be happy – Samachta Bechagecha! Sukkot also marks a change in the mood of the holidays during the month of Tishrei. After Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, holidays of awe and solemnity, we have Sukkot, a holiday on which we are commanded to be happy and rejoice.
The Chida, Rav Chaim Yosef David Azulay, writes that there is a reason these holidays are so close together. We just celebrated the holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Those days, we spoke about how spiritual matters should be primary in our lives. We dedicated ourselves to serving Hashem and asked forgiveness for our frivolous pursuits. During Sukkot, we are commanded to leave our homes and move to a temporary dwelling outdoors. The Sukkah highlights what we have just experienced, reminding us that our materialistic values in this world are inconsequential and unstable.
After the serious times of the high holidays have slipped away, the Sukkah reminds us about our decision to pursue the spiritual. Sitting in the Sukkah, we are reminded that our goal is to do mitzvot in this interim world for our next long life in Olam Habah. As it says in Pirke Avot, this world is “A vestibule before the world to come (4:21).” Eating and sleeping in the Sukkah are intended to assist us in clarifying our outlook on life. The Sukkah is a sanctuary of spirituality; the message of the Sukkah must remain with us during the long winter so that the year we asked Hashem for on Rosh Hashanah is the one that we'll merit to have.
The Four Species
On Sukkot, there is a commandment to take four species and wave them together: The Etrog, which tastes and smells good. The Lulav from a date palm produces tasty fruit but not a pleasant aroma. The hadas stems are aromatic but not enjoyable to eat. And the aravot branches have neither taste nor smell.
Among many other lessons, the Rabbis compare ‘taste’ to the knowledge of Torah— Hashem's Word— which is inside a person, and ‘aroma’ to the good deeds performed by a person, which spread like a pleasant smell. In this way, the four species are comparable to the four different types of Jews: Those who have both knowledge of the Torah and do good deeds; those who have knowledge but lack good deeds; those who do good deeds but lack Torah knowledge; and those who have neither.
On Sukkot, we take all four different types and wave them together – if even one of the species is missing, we are unable to fulfill this mitzvah. We learn through the four species that every Jew is integral to the whole. After pondering our failings and inadequacies on Yom Kippur, the four species are a strong validation of our importance and self-worth.
Never Forget the Source
The Torah writes, “You shall observe the feast of Sukkot for seven days after you have gathered in your grain and your wine (Devarim 16:13).” Why do we observe Sukkot at this harvest time? The Rashbam explains that the key to the answer is in Vayikra, “That your generations may know that I made the people of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt (23:43).”
When we sit in the Sukkah, the Torah tells us we should remember how Hashem provided shelter for the nation of Israel for 40 years after they left Egypt. B’nei Yisrael had no land to call their own, and they had to wander and be sheltered by G-d. When we harvest our crops, we tend to lose sight of how lucky we are to have Hashem’s protection.
The Torah warns us of this danger, as it says, “When you have eaten and are full, and have built your homes, and lived there; and when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and your gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart may be lifted, and you will forget Hashem, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of slavery; who led you through that great and terrible wilderness, who brought you water out of the rock, who fed you in the wilderness with the mann, so that He might humble you, and that He might test you, to do good for you in the end, and you will say in your heart...it was my power and the might of my hand that has gotten me this wealth (Vayikra 8:12-17).”
To make sure that we don't come to the point of denying G-d’s Providence, we go out into the Sukkah to remind ourselves that just as Hashem provided for those who lived in the desert with Sukkot to live, so too does He provide for us now. So we don't forget the Source of our livelihood, G-d gave us the holiday of Sukkot as we harvest, the time when we are most likely to be blinded when we see the literal fruits of our labor.
The Mann Mindset
Rabbi Joey Haber spoke about how the mann can be interpreted as both a blessing and a curse, depending on one’s mindset. If a person does not know where his livelihood is coming from tomorrow, but like B’nei Yisrael in the desert, he fully trusts in Hashem, then he is truly blessed. But if a person does not live with this mindset, he will be filled with anxiety and worry and never be happy, no matter how much money he has.
On Sukkot, we leave the comfort of our homes and live in simple shacks. This is precisely why Sukkot is known as Zman Simchatenu—a joyful time. On Sukkot, we see that true happiness comes not from our material assets but from our trust in Hashem. One man who lives in a small apartment can be happier than another man living in a mansion. Therefore, eating our meals outside in a temporary dwelling can be just as fulfilling as being in our comfortable homes.
Happiness is knowing that everything we have is from Hashem. “Ezehu ashir? Hasameach bechelko! — Who is rich? One who is happy with what he has!” On Sukkot, the joy comes from being with our families, having a door open to guests and ushpizin, and gratitude to Hashem for all He gives us.
If the Sukkah is a reminder of the Clouds of Glory that Hashem created for the protection of B’nei Yisrael while they traveled through the desert, then why isn’t there a holiday for the mann, or for the water that Hashem provided them as well? The first answer is that food and water are basic human survival needs. Even without an annual reminder, we are constantly obligated to be thankful for these gifts.
The second answer is that B’nei Yisrael complained about their food and water, so Hashem gave in to them. However, since they never complained about the elements, Hashem gave them the beracha of the Ananei Hakavod.
The third answer is derived from the fact that the Erev Rav were not able to receive the blessing of the clouds. We learn that Sukkot is a holiday celebrated to commemorate the extra love and beracha that Hashem gave to the Jewish nation as a luxury, like traveling first class versus coach. We must have an abundance of hakarat hatov for all that Hashem blesses us with—food and water, yes, but also the luxuries: beautiful clothing, lovely homes, family, education, and of course, our beloved community.
Rabbi David Ashear wrote in Living Emunah 2 about a doctor and a successful philanthropist who came upon a middle-aged man sobbing at the Kotel. Rabbi Firer, the doctor, said, “It’s no coincidence that we are here when he needs our help. If he needs medical assistance, I will help him. If he needs financial assistance, you will help him.”
He tapped the man on the shoulder and said, “Excuse me, do you need medical assistance?” “No,” the man replied. “Baruch Hashem, everything is fine.” “Do you need money?” the philanthropist asked. “No,” he said. “Baruch Hashem, He has given me everything I could ever need.” The two men looked at each other and looked at the man and asked, “Do you mind if we ask why you are crying?” “You see,” the man explained. “Last night, I married off my last child. I came here to thank Hashem for all He has given me throughout these years. I can’t help but cry when I think of Hashem’s kindness.” This is true hakarat hatov. If we stop and think about how much Hashem has given us all these years, we will indeed be moved to tears as well.
Vehayita Ach Sameach
Being joyful is an all-year-round mitzvah, so why do we have a specific commandment to be in a state of simcha during Sukkot more than any other time of the year? Seemingly bothered by this question, the Rambam wrote that though there is a mitzvah to be joyous during every Yom Tov, we find that during Sukkot in the Bet Hamikdash, there was an exceptional amount of great joy and happiness (Hilchot Lulav 8:12). But the question remains, what is so special and unique about Chag HaSukkot?
The answer is that Sukkot is the simcha-source of the entire year! The Baal Hatanya explains that the simcha of Sukkot can be likened to a concentrate; just as using a little concentrated juice will enable a person to make an entire bottle of a drink, so too, the simcha we can draw from Sukkot will flavor all the days of the year with happiness and joy. The talmidim of the holy Arizal wrote that one who follows this mitzvah and is in a state of simcha and without any distress during this holy chag, is guaranteed to have an enjoyable, joyful year!
But being happy during this holiday is more than just a segulah. During the year, there are times when our happiness is to be limited or even restrained, such as when we repent and say vidduy as we are pained by our sins. However, during Sukkot and Simchat Torah, we are not allowed to have even a slight lack of simcha—not even for a moment! We are commanded to be happy and have only joy – ach sameach.
The simcha on Sukkot is so crucial that even if someone, chas veshalom, stumbled and transgressed the most serious and terrible of sins after Yom Kippur and he wants to do teshuvah, he is not allowed to pour his heart out in repentance by saying vidduy and being pained! He must not let anything get in the way of his being besimcha!
Rabbi Elimelech Biderman quotes the Chatam Sofer in his Sukkot booklet of Torah Wellsprings. “Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret are even greater than Yom Kippur,” he teaches, “because during Yom Kippur we love Hashem through affliction, and on Simchat Torah, we love Hashem through joy. The mitzvah and the holiness of the holiday come from the Jewish people’s happiness.
On September 1st, 1939, in the middle of the month of Elul, Germany attacked Poland. The bombardment continued for three weeks and didn't stop until September 27th, Erev Sukkot, when the Polish commander surrendered. As soon as the ceasefire went into effect, an amazing phenomenon happened. Despite their bombed homes and the devastation everywhere, the people began to climb out of their shelters.
Hundreds of Warsaw’s Jewish survivors leaped from the cellars and rubble, grabbed broken doors and window frames, and pulled them together to construct Sukkot. By the arrival of sunset – 5:40 pm that day – numerous makeshift Sukkot greeted the holiday, and a few hours later was the first night under German occupation. Gratitude to Hashem is not conditional. Just as He was and is there for us, our appreciation of Hashem will always prevail.
May we all truly appreciate all the good that Hashem has bestowed upon us, our families, and our community. May we have plenty of simcha on these holidays and let it flavor all our days in the future! Tizku leshanim rabot!
Rabbi Amram Sananes, written by Jack Rahmey
· How does sitting outside in our flimsy Sukkah make us feel Hakarat Hatov to Hashem?
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