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 Sukkos Potpourri

B’chamisha asar yom l’chodesh hashvi’I ha’zeh
chag hasukkos shivas yamim l’Hashem (Vayikra 23:34)

According to one opinion in the Gemora in Sukkah (11b), we are commanded to sit in sukkos in order to remember the miracle of the Clouds of Glory which surrounded the Jews during their travels through the wilderness. As this miracle began immediately upon the Exodus from Egypt, a number of commentators question why the holiday commemorating the miracle takes place in Tishrei and not in Nissan, when the miracle began?

The Vilna Gaon answers that we aren’t remembering the Clouds of Glory which initially protected the Jews in Nissan, as those clouds were taken away at the time of the sin of the golden calf. Rather, we are commemorating the clouds which returned on the 15th day of Tishrei after Hashem forgave the Jewish people, and which remained to surround and protect them for the duration of their sojourn in the wilderness. He explains that the Jews were forgiven on the 10th of Tishrei (Yom Kippur), and on the 11th Moshe commanded them regarding the building of the Mishkan. They brought their contributions for the Mishkan for two days (Shemos 36:3), the 12th and the 13th, and on the 14th Moshe realized that the donations were sufficient and announced that no more should be brought (36:6).

On the following day, the 15th of Tishrei, the work began on the building of the Mishkan and on that day, the Clouds of Glory returned to the Jewish camp, which we celebrate and remember on Sukkos. If the purpose of Sukkos is to celebrate the forgiveness which the Jewish people received, as symbolized by the return of the Clouds of Glory, why the clouds didn’t return immediately after Yom Kippur and why Sukkos doesn’t begin on the 11th day of Tishrei?

Rav Mattisyahu Salomon writes that people assume that the highest level of forgiveness is that Hashem will completely erase the sin as if it never happened. However, in teaching the fundamentals of proper repentance, Rabbeinu Yonah (Shaarei Teshuva 1:42) explains that there is an even higher level. He writes that it is possible for Hashem to completely erase a sin and any decree of punishment which may have been associated with it, and nevertheless, Hashem still has no interest in the person’s Divine service. In addition to confessing his sins and promising not to return to them, a person must also beseech Hashem to allow him to once again find favor in His eyes so that his mitzvos will be desired by Him.

Of all of the petitions that we make of Hashem in the emotional prayer known as Avinu Malkeinu (our Father, our King), the shortest one is avinu malkeinu kasveinu b’sefer zechuyos – write us in the book of merits. What is the intention of this request, as Hashem will give us reward for the good deeds that we did even if we don’t pray for it, and He certainly won’t write down mitzvos which we haven’t actually done simply because we petition him to do so?

Rav Doniel Movshovitz of Kelm explains that although it is the shortest of the requests, it may well be the most important. The Gemora in Shabbos (32a) teaches that although everything which happens in the world emanates from a Divine decree, Hashem chooses to bring about good deeds through righteous people and punishments through guilty people. The book of merits to which we refer in our request represents the book of people who find favor in Hashem’s eyes and whom He will use as His agents for the performance of mitzvos.

Although Hashem said that He forgave the Jewish people on Yom Kippur, they obviously had yet to reach the highest level of forgiveness, which is manifested through Hashem allowing a person to serve Him through the performance of mitzvos. It was only through their continued repentance in the days following Yom Kippur that they finally reached the level of finding Divine favor. This was revealed through Hashem allowing them to begin the construction of the Mishkan, which was to be His unique dwelling place in this world, on the 15th of Tishrei, and on that day the Clouds of Glory returned to signify that they had been completely forgiven.

After the difficult period of introspection and teshuva (repentance) which culminates with the forgiveness of Yom Kippur, we arrive at Sukkos, which we refer to in our prayers as z’man simchaseinu –  the time of our rejoicing. The happiness comes from a feeling that our teshuva was accepted at the highest level, as demonstrated by our ability to serve Hashem during these 8 days with an unprecedented number of unique mitzvos, such as dwelling in the sukkah and taking the 4 species.

With this explanation, we may now understand that the Mishnah in Sukkah (2:9) states that when one is forced to leave his sukkah due to the rain, he should view himself as a servant who attempted to pour a glass for his master, only to have it spilled back in his face. As a person should always be sad when his efforts to perform a mitzvah are unsuccessful, why do Chazal emphasize this point specifically in regarding to being evicted from the sukkah? Now that we understand that the joy of Sukkos emanates from a feeling that our repentance has been accepted to the point that we are able to once again serve Hashem with a myriad of additional mitzvos, it is obvious that a Divine message kicking us out of the sukkah should cause great pain due to its symbolic meaning. May we all enjoy a year in which we find ourselves in the book of merits and a Sukkos full of mitzvos, true joy, and dry weather! 


V’lakachtem lachem bayom harishon pri eitz hadar kapos temorim v’anaf eitz avos v’arvei nachal v’samachtem lifnei Hashem Elokeichem shivas yamim (Vayikra 23:40)

Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach recounted that there was a Jew who each year would bring his esrog to the synagogue and proudly show it to the other men present. After asking them to tell him how much they thought it was worth, he would proudly boast that he had actually paid only one shilling (a very small amount). When they asked him how he was able to get such a beautiful esrog for such a cheap price, he explained that most people go to shop for an esrog immediately after Yom Kippur. Because demand is so high at that time, the merchants are able to raise the prices to very high levels. He, on the other hand, would wait until the afternoon of the day before the beginning of Yom Tov. At this time, the sellers realized that they had no chance of selling their remaining inventory and were happy to receive for it at least a token price.

Rav Shlomo Zalman commented that this story bothered him greatly and he once approached the man to rebuke him. The Gemora in Beitzah (16a) tells of a dispute between Shammai and Hillel regarding the proper manner in which to honor Shabbos. Shammai maintained that one should already begin preparing for Shabbos on Sunday. Whenever he found a nice animal for sale, he would purchase it for Shabbos, and if he subsequently found a nicer one later in the week, he would buy the new one for Shabbos and eat the first one. The Gemora relates regarding Hillel that midda aheres hay’sa lo – he had a different approach – in that he trusted in Hashem each day to provide him his needs for that day. He would therefore immediately consume anything he purchased at the beginning of the week and would wait until Friday to buy his Shabbos needs.

Rav Shlomo Zalman questioned why Hillel didn’t conduct himself in the way that Shammai did, which would seem to be the preferable approach? Further, what is the meaning of the Gemora’s phrase hay’sa lo (he had)? The Gemora emphasizes this to teach that Hillel conducted himself with this bitachon (trust) in all areas of his life, both in mitzah performance and in his personal affairs. If he needed to purchase a new shirt, he didn’t do so in advance but waited with faith until just before the time that he actually needed to wear it. The Gemora stresses that this was his individual style across the board, even when it was directly pertinent to his personal well-being, and as a result he was permitted to apply this approach to doing mitzvos. However, a person who conducts himself differently in areas relating to his personal needs, planning and preparing in advance in order to guarantee himself the best item, but attempts to wait until the last minute in spiritual matters isn’t demonstrating financial savvy but rather his cavalier lack of respect for Hashem’s mitzvos!


V’lakachtem lachem bayom harishon pri eitz hadar kapos temorim v’anaf eitz avos v’arvei nachal v’samachtem lifnei Hashem Elokeichem shivas yamim (Vayikra 23:40)

The Shulchan Aruch rules (Orach Chaim 658:2) that the 4 species may not be taken on Shabbos, even if the first day of Sukkos (the only day when this mitzvah is Biblical in nature outside of the Beis HaMikdash) falls on Shabbos, as it does this year. The Mishnah Berurah explains (658:2) that the Rabbis made this enactment due to a fear that a Jew may be unfamiliar with the proper way to shake the 4 species. In order to learn how to do so, he may carry them to house of the knowledgeable Rabbi, in the process violating the prohibition against carrying in the public domain on Shabbos. Although this would indeed be a tragedy, it is still difficult to understand why Chazal saw fit to deny tens of thousands of people this tremendous mitzvah simply because one Jew may unintentionally carry it to a Rabbi in order to learn how to blow it?

A well-known Medrash (Vayikra Rabbah 30:12) notes that while the esrog has both a good taste and a pleasant smell, and the lulav and hadas each have one of these good qualities, the aravah which we are commanded to take together with them has neither taste nor smell. Each of the species represents a different kind of Jew, as some have both Torah and good deeds, some have one but not the other, and sadly there are Jews – like the aravah – who have neither. In a beautiful lesson in the importance of achdus (unity) among the Jewish nation, Hashem says that they should all be taken together in order that they may atone one for the other.

The impending arrival of Sukkos is heralded by streets full of Jews shopping for and carrying around the 4 species. Certainly when Sukkos itself arrives, everybody will be excited to bring his beautiful esrog and lulav to the synagogue to perform the mitzvah with great fervor and intent. When the normal time for the taking of the species arrives on Shabbos but none are in sight, people will become curious about the omission, even more so when it takes place on the first day of Sukkos.

Upon asking, they will be told that it is because of the aforementioned fear of another Jew accidentally carrying it outside on Shabbos. The questioner will wonder which uneducated Jew we could possibly be concerned about, as anybody who grew up with a proper education will know how to shake the species and will certainly be familiar enough with the laws of Shabbos to know that they may not be carried outside on Shabbos for any reason. The answer will be that we aren’t worried that a Jew in B’nei B’rak or Gateshead or Lakewood would do such a thing, but there are Jews in Kansas City who may inadvertently transgress. The questioner will press on, challenging why the tens of thousands of learned Jews of Brooklyn, London, and Jerusalem must lose out because of a few ignorant Jews in the Midwest?

However, from the fact that Chazal nevertheless made this decree, we see that they understood that there is more to mitzvos than just looking after oneself to do them properly. While that would be the case if we did mitzvos for ourselves, in reality we do them for Hashem. As much as we think He will, figuratively, be happy if we do what we are supposed to, we forget that He doesn’t look at us as individuals but as parts of the collective Jewish nation. If some of His children do His will with the greatest precision and accuracy while a much larger group lags sorely behind, the overall picture from His perspective is grim.

Chazal appreciated that as much as He would enjoy the taking of the 4 species by those who know how to do so, the pain caused by those who may accidentally transgress is so great that it outweighs the pleasure He would receive. Upon understanding this, the questioner will be left with a new appreciation of the sense of achdus and responsibility which we are required to feel toward all of our Jewish brethren. This new recognition will inspire him to a newfound commitment to reach out to educate and draw near those unfortunate and uneducated Midwestern Jews – of whom this author is one – in a manner which taking the 4 species could never have accomplished!


Sukkos Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1)     There are three cases of sukkos which are presently invalid for use which may become permitted without any action whatsoever but merely through the utterance of certain words. How many of them can you think of?

2)     According to one opinion in the Gemora in Sukkah (11b), we are commanded to sit in sukkos in order to remember the miracle of the Clouds of Glory which surrounded the Jews during their travels through the wilderness. Why is there no holiday to similarly commemorate the miracles of the Mon and the wellspring of Miriam which also enabled their survival in the desert? (Chida, Alshich HaKadosh, Darash Moshe)

3)     If one’s sukkah isn’t large enough for all of the males to sleep in it, is it permitted to wait until some of them are sleeping and then gently drag them out of the sukkah, as the mitzvah is only to go to sleep in the sukkah, but once one is already sleeping he is unconscious and exempt from any further obligation in mitzvos until he awakens? (Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach quoted in Sefer HaSukkah P’sakim and Ha’aros 27 and Halichos Shlomo Vol. 1 pg. 337, M’rafsin Igri)

4)     The Vilna Gaon notes that dwelling in a sukkah is one of the few mitzvos which one may perform with his entire body. How many others can you think of?

5)     Tosefos writes (Berachos 11b d.h. she’kvar) that the reason one doesn’t make the blessing for dwelling in the sukkah (leishev ba’sukkah) prior to going to sleep is because of a concern that he may not fall asleep and his blessing will have been in vain. Why don’t we similarly forbid a person to recite the blessing regularly recited before going to sleep (hamapil) due to this reasoning? (Rav Chaim Kanievsky quoted in M’rafsin Igri)

6)     If one is forced to spend Sukkos either in a community which has a sukkah but doesn’t have the 4 species or in a place which has the 4 species but no sukkah, which one should he choose?

7)     From where did the Jewish people obtain the 4 species for Sukkos during their 40-year sojourn in the desert? (Har Tzvi Sukkos)

8)     This year the shofar wasn’t blown on the first day of Rosh Hashana, nor are the 4 species taken on the first day of Sukkos, as both fall on Shabbos and the Rabbis decreed that they shouldn’t be taken out of a fear that they may be inadvertently carried to a Rabbi to learn their laws. Why wasn’t a similar decree made forbidding the eating of matzo or the reading of Megillas Koheles and Rus when their respective times fall on Shabbos? (M’rafsin Igri)

9)     When reciting the Grace after Meals during Sukkos, we pray ha’Rachaman hu yach’zir lanu es Sukkas Dovid ha’nofales – may the Merciful One (Hashem) return to us the falling Sukkah of King David (i.e. the Holy Temple). Why do we refer to the Beis HaMikdash as presently falling (ha’nofales) and not as having already fallen (ha’nafal)? (Shelah HaKadosh)

10)  In the blessing recited just before Shema during the evening prayers on Shabbos and festivals, we ask Hashem to spread His sukkah of peace (Sukkas Shalom) over us. What is the connection between a sukkah and peace?

11)  On the first day of Sukkos, we read in the Torah the section in Parshas Emor which lists the Biblical festivals. The last holiday listed chronologically is Sukkos, regarding which the Torah states (23:33-36) simply that one should do no work for 8 days. The Torah then interrupts to summarize and state (23:37) that this concludes the list of all of the Yomim Tovim, at which point it continues (23:39-43) discussing the laws of Sukkos and mentions the requirement to dwell in a sukkah and take the 4 species. Why is the section discussing Sukkos split up by this declaration which seems to indicate an end to the topic of the festivals?

12)  On Shabbos Chol HaMoed Pesach, the text of the blessing recited after the reading of the Haftorah is M’kadeish Ha’Shabbos (Who has sanctified Shabbos), but on Shabbos Chol HaMoed Sukkos it is M’kadeish HaShabbos v’Yisroel v’hazmanim (Who has sanctified Shabbos, the Jewish people, and the holidays). Why is the wording different? (Maharil quoted in Chaim She’yeish Bahem Moadim)

13) Even though Rashi (12:15) writes that eating matzah is only obligatory on the first night of Pesach and optional for the remainder of the holiday, the Vilna Gaon and others are of the opinion that one who nevertheless consumes matzah for the duration of Pesach is considered to be performing a Biblical commandment. This would seem to be analogous to the laws of Sukkos, in which eating bread in the sukkah is obligatory only on the first night of the holiday and optional for the duration of Sukkos. However, we find that one who chooses to consume bread in the sukkah is performing a mitzvah and therefore makes a blessing over it, so why doesn’t one also make a blessing when he voluntarily eats matzah during the remaining days of Pesach? (Baal Ha’Maor Pesachim 26b-27a in the Rif, Kol Bo, Mishmeres Chaim Vol. 1, Merafsin Igri)

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