The Divrei Torah in this section have been translated by Rav Reuven Ungar, Director of Alumni Affairs
The Essence of Sukkot
Dr. Yehudah Galinsky
A Dvar Torah from Dr. Yehudah Galinsky (84-6), Lecturer at
At the beginning of the halachot of Sukkot (Orach Chaim, Siman 625), the Bach advances the view of the Tur, that an individual who lacks awareness of the meaning of the mitzvah of the sukka does not fulfill the mitzvah in its' entirety. Thus, it is incumbent upon us to strive and comprehend the message and fundamental idea of this festival.
The Torah reveals to us the essence of the mitzvah as follows: "In Sukkot you shall dwell for seven days...in order that your generations will know that I placed (hoshavti) the Jewish people in Sukkot when I took them out of the Land of Egypt, I am Hashem your G-d" (Vayikra 23:42/3).
However, the uniqueness of Sukkot is not limited to leaving ones home for a temporary dwelling. While there is a general mitzvah of rejoicing during a festival, during Sukkot we are particularly required to do so, as the Rambam writes in Sefer HaMitzvoth (mitzvah 169): "We are commanded to grasp a lulav and to rejoice with it in front of Hashem for seven days". The Rambam records this in greater detail in the Yad Chazaka (Hilchot Lulav 5:12): "Although in all festivals it is a mitzvah to rejoice, during the festival of Sukkot, in the Mikdash there existed additional joy".
The additional element of joy is predicated upon the following textual analysis. The mitzvah of joy appears in Parshat Emor in reference to the grasping of the lulav during Sukkot, "And you shall take on the first day a beautiful fruit..and you will rejoice before Hashem, your G-d, seven days" (Vayikra, 23:40). The general mitzvah of rejoicing on festivals is not mentioned until Parshat Re'eh (Devarim, 16:11, 14). The commentators explain that the additional joy of Sukkot is related to the second element of the festival (Chag Ha'Asif),that celebrates bringing the produce from the fields into our homes.
Why are we commanded to enter a sukka? What is the significance of the sukkot in which our ancestors dwelled during their stay in the desert?
The Rashbam discusses these questions at length. At the time of harvest an individual is more inclined to forget the Divine source of his blessings. "My strength and power has brought me such wealth!" The antidote to this attitude is to leave our comfortable, luxurious home and enter a temporary dwelling. In such surroundings we are able to ponder our extended stay in the desert, where Hashem is the one who provided for all of our needs. Today as well, Hashem enables us to earn livelihoods and to acquire possessions.
I would like to suggest an alternative explanation. In Parshat Ki Tavo, the Torah outlines the terrible events that will befall the Jewish People, if it strays from the proper course. The Torah informs us as to the cause of these punishments: "And these will be signs in you and your descendants forever. Because you did not worship Hashem your G-d with joy and a full heart, when you were abundantly blessed (marov kol)" (Devarim, 28:46-7).
The true test of a religious individual faith is experienced during a time of plenty, "rov kol". Serving Hashem in times of prosperity represents a greater challenge than doing so in times of need. It is not easy to reflect on spiritual matters while immersed in physical comfort. Perhaps this constitutes the deeper understanding of the verse "for not on bread alone, does man live" (Devarim 8:3). One is not required to be oblivious to the physical world; indeed, we are permitted to derive pleasure in this world. However, we must realize that the truly important matters are beyond this world, beyond "bread alone".
Departure from the home to the sukka enables one to "take a break", to breath clean air, re-freshen the brain, and contemplate upon the blue sky and the heaven. There is more to life than a house and earthly possessions. This is the message of sukkot.
The timing of the festival of Sukkot (the beginning of the fall) sheds an additional light on the meaning of this festival. Were Sukkot to be observed in the spring or summer, the focus would be upon entering the sukkah (to escape the rays of the sun). However, since it occurs in the pleasant atmosphere of the fall, is it is clear that the emphasis is on our relinquishing the comfort of our home. This unique period teaches us to focus upon spiritual matters, and yet to enjoy this world, to serve Hashem with a full heart.
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