If you don’t see this week’s issue by the end of the week, check http://parshapotpourri.blogspot.com which may be more up-to-date
Back to This Week's Parsha | Previous Issues
Sukkos - Vol. 3, Issue 54
Compiled by Oizer Alport
V’chag ha’asif b’tzeis Hashana b’aspecha es ma’asecha min hasadeh (Shemos 23:16)
In introducing us to the festival of Sukkos for the first time, why does the Torah refer to the holiday as Chag HaAsif – the festival of the ingathering – and not by its more well-known name, “Sukkos,” which isn’t used in conjunction with the holiday until much later (Devorim 16:13)? Further, if the holiday of Sukkos commemorates the Ananei HaKavod (Clouds of Glory) which surrounded and protected the Jews, shouldn’t it logically be celebrated in the spring when the Clouds of Glory first began to miraculously escort the Jews after their Exodus from Egypt?
The Vilna Gaon explains that although the Ananei HaKavod first appeared in the month of Nissan, they subsequently departed after the sin of the golden calf. It wasn’t until 15 Tishrei, four days after the forgiveness of Yom Kippur, that the Clouds returned, this time to remain for the duration of the 40 years that the Jews traveled through the wilderness. It is this returning of the Clouds of Glory which is commemorated by celebrating the holiday of Sukkos at this time.
Based on this insight, the Meshech Chochmah explains that when Sukkos is first mentioned in Parshas Mishpatim, the Jews still hadn’t sinned with the golden calf and the original Clouds of Glory were still present. The entire reason for celebrating Sukkos in the fall wasn’t yet applicable, and the Torah had to refer to it by an alternate name based on the ingathering of the yearly harvest. However, in Parshas Re’eh, the Clouds had already disappeared and returned, and it was appropriate to refer to the Yom Tov at that time as Chag HaSukkos, the festival which commemorates the restoration of the Clouds of Glory!
B’chamisha asar yom l’chodesh hashevi’i hazeh 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 sukkahs to remember the miracle of the Clouds of Glory which surrounded the Jews during their travels through the wilderness. Since this miracle began immediately upon the Exodus from Egypt, why does 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 Teshuvah 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, the shortest one is “Avinu Malkeinu kasveinu b’sefer zechuyos” – Our Father, our King, 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 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 teshuvah which culminates with the forgiveness of Yom Kippur, we arrive at Sukkos, which we refer to in our prayers as æîï ùîçúéðå – the time of our rejoicing. The happiness comes from a feeling that our teshuvah was accepted at the highest level, as demonstrated by our ability to serve Hashem during these eight days with an unprecedented number of unique mitzvos, such as dwelling in the sukkah and taking the four species.
With this explanation, we may now understand that the Mishnah in Sukkah (2:9) teaches 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!
Mashiv haruach u’morid hageshem
The Gemora in Taanis (4b) rules that although Sukkos corresponds to the time when we begin to need rain for the success of the crops, we don’t begin to pray for rain on Sukkos itself because rain on the holiday is considered a curse. We must wait an additional two weeks after the end of Sukkos to allow sufficient time for those who ascended to the Temple for Sukkos to return home without getting wet.
According to this logic, we should similarly stop praying for rain two weeks before Pesach to allow people to ascend in dry travel conditions. Why do we continue praying for rain up until Pesach, praying for something which if answered would significantly impede the ability of people to ascend to the Beis HaMikdash with their Pesach sacrifices?
Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv suggests that this is due to the power of inertia. The issue of those traveling to Yerushalayim is one which must be taken into account, but it is not compelling. Therefore, when Sukkos comes at the end of the summer, when we haven’t been praying for rain, this consideration is sufficient to delay the change in our prayers to begin petitioning Hashem for rain. On the other hand, when Pesach arrives at the end of the winter, when we are currently asking for rain, this argument isn’t strong enough to cause us to alter the status quo and cease our prayers prematurely.
Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach explains the difference with a practical observation. When people go to the Temple for Sukkos, they haven’t yet taken our their winter wardrobes and travel in clothes which are ill-suited to protect them from the rains on their return journey, so we must give them sufficient time to return home before we begin to ask for rain. On the other hand, when people ascend to Yerushalayim for Pesach, they are properly outfitted in their winter gear which will be able to stand up to any inclement weather they encounter, and we are therefore permitted to continue our prayers for rain.
Finally, Rav Chaim Kanievsky posits that the answer lies in a psychological difference. The verse in Tehillim (55:15) states b’beis Elokim n’halech b’ragesh – in the House of Hashem (the Temple) we will walk with feeling. It is pointed out that the letters in the word b’ragesh are short for barad, ruach, geshem, sheleg – hail, wind, rain, and snow. This hints that when one merits traveling to the Beis HaMikdash, his excitement and enthusiasm is so great as to allow him to overcome the greatest of hurdles and to travel in even the most inclement weather. As a result, we are permitted to continue praying for rain in the weeks before Pesach because those ascending to Yerushalayim won’t be deterred by the rains. After Sukkos, on the other hand, people are returning to their homes without the emotional charge and would find the rains tremendously burdensome, so we have no choice but to delay our petitions!
V’lo kam navi od b’Yisroel k’Moshe (Devorim 34:10)
The Torah testifies that nobody will ever reach the tremendous spiritual heights attained by Moshe. The Rambam writes (Hilchos Teshuvah 9:2) that even Moshiach won’t be able to reach the level of prophecy achieved by Moshe. How can this fundamental belief be reconciled with another comment of the Rambam (Hilchos Teshuvah 5:2), who writes that every Jew has the ability to be as pious as Moshe? Further, while the Rambam discusses only theoretical potential, Rashi writes (Shemos 6:26) that Aharon was actually considered equal to Moshe. How is it possible that Aharon, great as he was, was on the level of Moshe, whom the Torah calls the greatest prophet who ever was or ever will be?
Rav Elchonon Wasserman and Rav Moshe Feinstein explain that it is certainly true that in raw, objective terms of accomplishment, nobody will ever reach the sublime heights attained by Moshe. If his celestial “score” was 1000, nobody – not even his brother Aharon – has ever or will ever score 1000. If so, in what way can Aharon or anybody else be considered equal to Moshe?
While it is true that Moshe scored 1000, this was only because he received a special neshama (soul) with the capability of scoring 1000. It may be that Aharon only scored 900 or 950, yet he is still considered Moshe’s equal because his soul didn’t have the same abilities as Moshe’s. When Moshe was born, he filled up the house with light (Sotah 12a), something which can’t be said of Aharon and certainly not of any of us. Aharon did, however, utilize every last talent with which he was blessed, such that whatever score he received was the maximum possible for the soul he was given. Although Aharon’s raw score was lower, his “grade” was the same 100% as Moshe’s, and in that sense they were equal.
While in this world people are given honor and respect based on their score, only Hashem knows what somebody was actually capable of accomplishing and grades them accordingly. Rav Moshe explains that this is the intent of the Gemora (Bava Basra 10b) in which an ill Rabbi briefly passed over into the World to Come and returned to declare that he saw an upside-down world, one in which “the higher ones were on bottom and the bottom ones were on top.”
In this world, because we don’t know somebody’s potential, we have no choice but to respect somebody who scores 300 more than a person who scores 200. In the World of Truth, Hashem measures every individual against his own yardstick. Many times the person who scored 300 had the ability to score 400, giving him a grade of 75%, while the person who scored 200 didn’t have nearly as many talents and the best he could have hoped for was 250, yielding a grade of 80%. In the “upside-down” World of Truth, the latter will come out on top, as Hashem doesn’t judge with the superficial tools available to us.
The boy or girl at the top of the class and the relative or co-worker who always seem to do more than us and accomplish it quicker will be held to a higher standard by Hashem. We should take comfort in the recognition that Hashem won’t compare us to anybody else, judging every individual on the basis of his talents and trials. At the same time, we should use this knowledge to utilize our personal strengths to become the best Jew we are capable of being – one who will merit sitting next to Moshe in Gan Eden!
Sukkos Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) Is rain always considered a curse on Sukkos, and if not, under what circumstances is it deemed so? (Peirush Mishnayos L’Rambam Sukkah 2:9, Ritva and Meiri Taanis 2a, Maggid Meishorim Parshas Emor, Bikkurei Yaakov 639:39, Aruch HaShulchan 639:20, Piskei Teshuvos 739:18)
2) The Gemora in Sukkah (11b) quotes a dispute between Rebbi Eliezer and Rebbi Akiva whether we are commanded to dwell in sukkahs to remember the Clouds of Glory or because our ancestors dwelled in sukkahs in the wilderness. What are the legal ramifications of this seemingly hypothetical dispute? (Bach Orach Chaim 625, Shu”t Arugas HaBosem Orach Chaim 187)
3) Even though dwelling in a sukkah is a positive time-bound commandment, why aren’t women obligated in the mitzvah since they were also included in the miracle of the Clouds of Glory, just as they are obligated in the time-bound mitzvos of Purim due to similar logic? (Tosefos Pesachim 108b, Shaar HaMelech Hilchos Chometz U’Matzo 6:1, Shu”t Chasam Sofer Orach Chaim 185)
4) The Medrash teaches that in addition to their decrees against Shabbos, Rosh Chodesh, and circumcision, the Greeks also wanted to forbid the observance of Sukkos. In response, Hashem said that because they tried to eliminate the 8-day holiday of Sukkos, He would reward the Jews with the 8-day festival of Chanukah. For what reason were the Greeks specifically opposed to Sukkos, and in what way is Chanukah considered a measure-for-measure compensation for their attempt to eradicate Sukkos? (Kuntres B’Inyanei Chag HaSukkos by Rav Chanoch Karlenstein)
5) The Vilna Gaon writes that dwelling in a sukkah is one of the few mitzvos which a person performs with his entire body. How many others can you think of?
6) If one is forced to spend Sukkos either in a place with a sukkah but no 4 species or in a place which has the 4 species but no sukkah, which should he choose? (Elef HaMagen 625:22)
7) If at the time that a person took the 4 species he believed the esrog to be invalid and after putting them down he found out that it was kosher, did he fulfill his obligation? (Minchas Shlomo 2:51)
8) We refer to Sukkos in our prayers as z’man simchaseinu (the time of our happiness). How can it be that we are expected to reach the pinnacle of joy at a time when we are required to leave the security and familiarity of our comfortable homes and live in crowded, unfurnished, temporary dwellings for an entire week? (Darkei Mussar, Meorei HaMoadim)
9) As Koheles begins (1:2) with the depressing theme of, “Futility of futilities! Everything is futile,” why is it read on Sukkos, which is z’man simchaseinu – the time of our rejoicing? (Darkei Mussar)
10) The Medrash (Sifri V’zos Ha’bracha 2, see Rashi 33:2) relates that before giving the Torah to the Jews, Hashem first offered it to the other nations of the world, all of whom refused. How could He offer the Torah to them when He promised our forefathers that He would give the Torah to their descendants, and what would have happened had one of the other nations actually chosen to accept the offer? (Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh Shemos 19:5, Mas’as HaMelech)
11) Rashi writes (33:18) that the tribe of Zevulun engaged in commerce and shared their profits with the tribe of Yissochar to allow them to be free to engage in the study of Torah. For enabling this Torah learning, the tribe of Zevulun receives half of the reward for the study that occurs as a result of their support. Is this reward deducted from that which the Torah scholars of Yissochar will receive for their learning? (Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh Shemos 30:13, Introduction to Sefer HaFla’ah, Taam V’Daas and Chavatzeles HaSharon Parshas Vayechi, Ayeles HaShachar)
12) Rashi writes (34:1) that Moshe ascended to the top of Mount N’vo, where he died, in one giant step. How was he permitted to do so, as he died on Shabbos (Tosefos Menachos 30a), when it is forbidden to take large steps (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 301:1)? (Taima D’Kra)
13) In the Haftorah for Simchas Torah, Hashem commands Yehoshua (Yehoshua 1:8) v’hagisa bo yomam v’laylah – you should contemplate the Torah day and night. As the Jewish day begins at sundown, wouldn’t it have been more accurate to mention the night before the day? (Mishmeres Ariel)
14) Why are we accustomed to finish the annual cycle of reading the Torah on Simchas Torah instead of on Rosh Hashana, which would seem to be more appropriate as it represents the beginning of the new year? (Bikkurei Yaakov 669:1, Mishmeres Ariel)
© 2008 by Oizer Alport. Permission is granted to reproduce and distribute as long as credit is given. To receive weekly via email or to send comments or suggestions, write to firstname.lastname@example.org
Shema Yisrael Torah Network