Parshas Sukkot (5772)
The Festival of Sukkos, is also referred to in the Torah as Z’man Simchaseinu, the “Time of our Joy”. Maimonides writes in his code of Jewish law, Mishneh Torah, that even though there is mitzvah to rejoice on all the festivals, on the Festival of Sukkos there was a greater joy in the Temple, as the verse states: “And you shall rejoice in front of G-d for a seven-day period”.
The question is what exactly is so joyous about this holiday above all other holidays? After all, to fulfill the mitzvah of Sukkah properly, we are required to eat all our meals (and sleep, if possible) outdoors in the sukkah for seven days, which can often be quite an uncomfortable experience, especially if you live in Canada.
I would like to suggest the following answer: A person experiences great joy when he feels loved by those who are most important in his life. And the greatest joy of all comes from the feeling of being loved by the One Who is Most Important in everyone’s life – our Father in Heaven.
Considering all that we have in our lives – our health, our families, our friends, our homes, etc. etc. – we should really be walking around all day long in a state of absolute bliss, feeling all the while that G-d must truly love us. [Just remember that even when we don’t have that much ‘good’ in our lives, life itself is the greatest gift G-d could ever give us – after all, nothing is coming to us, it’s all good!].
The problem is that don’t often feel G-d’s love for two main reasons. First of all, because we live in a material world where there are always people who have more than we do, we tend to focus on all the things we don’t have, and we start feeling jealous and angry, to the point that we have a hard time feeling “loved” at all. Secondly, we are often unable to feel G-d at all in our lives – let alone His love – because He is concealed by Nature and Man, the twin powers on earth which seem to be in charge, thus blocking our ability to see Who is really running the world and taking care of us.
Along comes the Festival of Sukkos, positioned as it is just after Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. After a long day of fasting and praying and doing teshuvah (repentance) in the synagogue, we are meant to get to a point where we can rise above our material needs and wants – all those things which serve to make us angry and jealous and unhappy with ourselves and with each other – and to realize that which is truly important – living spiritually meaningful lives connected to G-d. That’s why we conclude the Neilah service at the end of Yom Kippur chanting seven times in unison: “G-d is the One True G-d”.
Five days later, we enter into the sukkah for the Festival of Sukkos. The requirements for building a sukkah are very interesting. The Halachah (Jewish law) tells us that when it comes to the walls, you can make them out of pretty much anything you want – bricks, wood, canvas, fiberglass, whatever. (I know a rabbi in Brooklyn who made his sukkah walls entirely from old Coca-Cola crates!). However, there are two very important requirements for the schach, the flimsy roof on top of the sukkah. (1) The schach must not be attached to the ground, i.e. you can’t bend the branch of a tree over your sukkah to use as a roof. (2) The schach must not be man-made, i.e. you can’t use a manufactured wooden tabletop or a bamboo mat designed for sleeping as the roof of your sukkah.
The reason for these two requirements, explains Rabbi Hirsch in his commentary on the Torah, is because in order to feel the joy of G-d’s love on Sukkos, we need to remove the two forces which hold sway over us throughout the year – Nature, as represented by the branches attached to a tree, and Man, as represented by manufactured utensils.
This way, when we begin the Festival of Sukkos, coming off the high of Yom Kippur, even though the walls we surround ourselves with might be weaker or cheaper than the walls of our neighbor’s sukkah, we can rise above these material differences, knowing as we do that the schach above all our sukkos is the same, and we are equally connected to G-d. And by removing the twin obstacles of Nature and Man from the schach above our heads, we are able to experience the joy of G-d’s love without anything getting in the way.
We know that the Torah refers to the Festival of Sukkos by yet another name – Chag Ha’Asif, the “Festival of the Ingathering” (see Exodus 23:16). The holy Gerrer Rebbe, the “Sfas Emes”, offers a beautiful explanation for this name. He writes that just as a farmer “gathers” all his prized crops and treasured possessions into his home at this time of year, so, too, does G-d “gather” all of us – His treasured possessions – into His home, the sukkah, during the Festival of Sukkos.
As we sit down with friends and family as guests in G-d’s home, let’s try to feel the joy that comes from knowing how much He truly loves us – and may we all have a meaningful and joyous holiday!