Back to This Week's Parsha| Previous Issues
Torah Attitude: Parashas Haazinu & Succos: Real joy
The time of our gladness does not seem to correspond to a special event taking place on a specific date. On the Festival of Succos we have two mitzvot: one we fulfill by taking together the four species; the other is to dwell in the succah for seven days. The Talmud brings two interpretations of what the succah that G'd provided us in the desert refers to. When we leave our homes to dwell in a succah in a colder season, it is clear that we are doing so to fulfill the mitzvah. The Vilna Gaon explains that the Clouds of Glory returned to the Jewish nation on the fifteenth of Tishrei. We learn from Koheles that real joy can only be accomplished with mitzvot and good deeds. Real joy and gladness is not to be found in material wealth and comfort. Affluence and wealth often cause spiritual decline as well as shortcomings in interpersonal relationships.
Time of our gladness
Each of our three festivals is a special time. As we say in our prayers (Shemona Esrei for Festivals): "Passover is the time of our freedom. Shavuous is the time of the giving of our Torah. And Succos is the time of our gladness." We begin to celebrate Passover on the date that we were redeemed from slavery in Egypt. Similarly, we celebrate Shavuous on the date when the Torah was given. On the other hand, Succos does not seem to correspond to a special event taking place on a specific date. It is called "the time of our gladness" because the Jews, as they entered the land of Israel, were living in an agricultural society and this is the time of the year when the harvest was brought home. As it says, (Vayikra 23:39-40) "But on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you gather the crop of the land, you shall celebrate G'd's Festival for seven days … and you shall rejoice before HASHEM your G'd for seven days." The Torah teaches us that at the time we rejoice with the crop that will sustain us for the coming year, we shall remember to rejoice in front of G'd. He is the one who blessed our crop and provides us with all our needs.
On the Festival of Succos we have two mitzvot: one to take the four species; the other to dwell in the succah. To rejoice with the four fine-smelling species throughout our festival corresponds to the time of the harvest. But the succah does not seem to have anything to do with a celebration about bringing home the crop. As a matter of fact, the Torah gives us a totally different reason for this mitzvah. As it says, (ibid 43) "So that your generations shall know that I provided Succos for the children of Israel when I took them out of the land of Egypt."
The Talmud (Succah 11b) brings two interpretations of what the succah that G'd provided us in the desert refers to. On a simple level, the Talmud explains that our ancestors actually lived in some kind of booths during their sojourn for forty years in the wilderness. On a deeper level the Talmud explains that this refers to the Clouds of Glory that enveloped the Jewish people throughout that period, protected them from their enemies, wild animals, and other dangers, besides providing shade from the hot sun and other harsh elements.
The Tur Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 625) asks an obvious question. If the succah is to commemorate what happened at the time of the exodus from Egypt, would it not have been more natural to sit in the succah during the Festival of Pesach when we celebrate that exodus? Says the Tur, "We were not commanded to make a succah in the month of Nissan because that is the beginning of the summer when it is customary to make booths to sit in the shade, and it would not be noticeable that we made our succah to fulfill the commandment of G'd. We were commanded to make our succah in the seventh month, at the beginning of the winter, when everyone leaves their booths to dwell in their homes. Then we leave our homes to dwell in a succah to show everyone that we are doing so to fulfill the mitzvah."
Clouds of Glory
The Vilna Gaon explains that according to the deeper interpretation that the succah in the desert refers to the Clouds of Glory, it is very understandable why we leave our homes to dwell in succos on the fifteenth of Tishrei. He brings that the Clouds of Glory left the Jewish nation after the sin of the golden calf and only came back to protect them when they started to erect the Tabernacle. Our sages explain that the sin of the golden calf took place on the 17th of Tammuz. This brought about that Moses destroyed the first tablets and was the first cause to establish that day as a fast day. The next day Moses ascended Mount Sinai for the second time, to pray to G'd and beg Him to save the Jewish people. He returned forty days later, at the end of the month of Av, only to ascend for a third period of forty days to receive the second tablets. He returned on Yom Kippur, the 10th of Tishrei, with the second tablets. On the following day, Moses gathered the Jewish people to instruct them about erecting the Tabernacle. For the following two days, the Jews brought the materials needed to build the Tabernacle. A day after that the materials were given to the craftsmen, each according to their particular job. The next day, the 15th of Tishrei the actual work started. Concludes the Vilna Gaon, this is the day the Clouds of Glory returned to the Jewish nation and this is the day that we begin to celebrate Succos.
It is interesting to notice that on the Festival that is the time of our gladness, we leave the comfort of our homes to dwell in a primitive hut. We eat there, and when possible we sleep there, and do as many of our activities as we can in the succah. On this Festival we also read Koheles that describes the futility of life. The Talmud (Shabbos 30b) asks that King Solomon seems to contradict himself. On one hand he writes (Koheles 8:15) "And I praised happiness", but he also writes (ibid 2:2) "And regarding happiness (I said) what does it achieve?" The Talmud answers that there are two kinds of happiness: one that comes from performing a mitzvah; this one King Solomon praises. The other one, that is not connected to a mitzvah, says King Solomon what does it achieve? Materialistic happiness is a very fleeting experience. As our sages say, what makes you laugh today may make you cry tomorrow. Real joy can only be found with the accomplishment of mitzvot and good deeds.
The Festival of Succos falls in the seventh month of the Jewish calendar: Chodesh HaSheviyi. If we change the "Shin" to a "Sin" then it reads Chodesh Haseviyi which means the saturated month. No month in the Jewish calendar is so saturated with mitzvot as the month of Tishrei, starting with Rosh Hashanah with the blowing of the shofar, through Yom Kippur, culminating with Succos when we take the four species and dwell in the succah. The Mitzvah of Succah in itself is unique in the sense that we perform our regular activities, eating and sleeping, and just by doing them in this primitive booth, they are transformed into mitzvot that can be performed 24/7. This is the message of Succos: the real joy and gladness is not to be found in material wealth and comfort. On the contrary, that often brings problems and misfortune. As its says in this week's Torah portion (Devarim 32:15) "And Jeshurun (the Jewish nation) became obese (affluent, see Targum) and kicked … and it deserted G'd its maker …they made Him angry with strangers and angered Him with abominations."
Affluence and wealth often cause spiritual decline as well as shortcomings in interpersonal relationships. Only the person who understands that wealth is not an end in itself but a means to a better society, where the more fortunate assist the less fortunate, can overcome the test of material wealth. As the Rambam writes (Laws of Purim 2:17) "There is no greater and more beautiful joy than pleasing the poor." This is specifically mentioned by the Festival of Succos. As it says (Devarim 16:13-14) "You shall rejoice you on your festival, your son and your daughter, your slave and your maidservant, and the Levite, the stranger, the orphan and the widow." As we celebrate this beautiful festival of Succos, let us ensure that the spirit of this Festival, the time of gladness, is shared with everyone around us, whether by providing financial assistance to those less fortunate, or by inviting individuals who are lonely to join us in our succos.
Wishing you and your loved ones a Gemar Chatima Tova and Chag Sameach.
These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shema Yisrael Torah Network