Over the festival of Sukkos, we leave our homes and move into a ‘Sukkah’ – a temporary dwelling. The main custom is to make a blessing over expressing our sitting or ‘dwelling’ in a Sukkah before eating, but not before sleeping. Why then is the text of the blessing referring to ‘dwelling’ rather than eating?
Similarly, even though we take four species on Sukkos, the blessing refers to only one of them: the lulav (palm branch). Why?
The ‘Griz’ – the Rabbi of Brisk, Rabbi Yitzchak Solovechik, was careful to make 100 blessings every day , and so on Shabbos (when there are less blessings in the prayer service) he would supplement his blessings by having fruits and vegetables.
As Succos approaches, beginning tomorrow night, there are several questions that don’t quite make sense about this Chag. The basic understanding of the verse (Vaikra 23:42,43) as explained by Gemara in Succah (11b) is that we are commanded to commemorate that we lived in “Succos” in the desert referring to Annanei Hakavod (the Clouds of Glory that protected us in the desert) so too now we live in Sukkos nowadays. However, a number of questions remain:
There were a number of other miracles that happened on our way to the homeland as well, such as water flowing from the well of Miriam and mann that fell every morning. How come we commemorate only the Annanei Hakavod? Why don’t we have a holiday called “Mayanot” and as part of the celebration we would drink water from the wells?!
Seeing as everything in Judaism has a meaning, and every time of year has its own strengths and possibilities for growth, why does Sukkos come immediately after Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah. Sukkos is commemorating the 40 years of travel around the desert, which took place all year round, for forty years. Why then is the holiday of Sukkos in the middle of Tishrei.
The simple, well-known answer is that if we were to sit in Sukkot, huts, at the beginning of the summer, on Pesach, it would not be obvious that we are doing so for the mitzvah. People would think that we are sitting in these Sukkot because it is warm outside, and much more enjoyable to sit outside in these huts. The Chag of Sukkos is therefore postponed until the end of the summer, and when everyone is coming in from his or her hut outside, we go out of our house, into huts. This shows that we are going out solely for the sake of the mitzvah, and not for the pleasure of sitting out (in the freezing winter!).
The question still follows, why do we go out in Tishrei, and why immediately after Yom Kippur.
To answer this, we must understand what the Sukkah is all about, and a bit of Jewish History.
We will start with a simple lesson in history.
Several thousand years ago, on the day of creation, Adam sinned. What happened as a result, evil became part of the person. What does this mean?
Originally, a person instinctively followed what was right and good. Evil only existed as a little thought at the back of one’s head, much like what we have now, as a conscience. After the sin of Adam, evil replaced good, and the instinct became evil, with good only being in one’s conscience. This is why it is so hard nowadays to do what is right. We must now use our conscience to overcome our instinct. This is not an easy feat at all.
Where do we see in the Torah that there is a mitzvah to be happy all the time?
The Torah writes “You shall love Hashem”. The Rambam explains in different places that this mitzvah is fulfilled by contemplating the existence and nature of the world, and also the way that life turns out for us in particular. If we follow the Rambam’s advice, and we conclude that Hashem is infinitely intelligent, does that make us love Him? If we were to meet an incredibly intelligent professor from the world’s top university, would we insist on being his friend because we recognize his brilliance? Our love for Hashem does not come about from our appreciation for His greatness, it comes from our appreciation of what He does for us. When we contemplate that the world is so vast, and so wonderful, we are right to praise Hashem, but when we feel that it is all for us, we will come to love Him. Succos is a time for that
There is a little known Jewish festival that gets lost in the whirlwind of the power-packed Jewish calendar. After each of the three major festivals (Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot), we observe a day called Isru Chag. Isru Chag does not have any special rituals or mitzvot. Even in the prayer services, only one small change is made, making it nearly impossible to notice the uniqueness of the day. Simply put, Isru Chag serves as a bridge from the holy, spiritually elated festival to the mundane weekday, our daily routine. It enables us to transfer the lessons we learned during the festival into our everyday lives. We need to be aware of the Divine specialness of the previous festival, of the spiritual euphoria which we hopefully felt, and inculcate those feelings into our inner consciousness. On Sukkot, for example, we feel very close to Hashem when we eat and live within the confines of our sukkah. Isru Chag is like the gift shop at the end of a museum tour -- in a sense, we need to buy some postcards with which to remember our stay. That way, we can take with us those feelings even after the festival has left us
In telling us about the festival of Sukkot, the Torah says in Parshat Emor, "But on the 15th day of the seventh month (Tishrei), when you gather the crop of the land, you shall celebrate Hashem's festival for seven days" (Leviticus 23:39). Rashi, points out that the holiday of Sukkot must always fall out in the fall (autumn) season, when the time of harvest comes. This requirement creates significant ramifications on the Jewish calendar. The Talmud (Tractate Sanhedrin 13a) lists several reasons for which the Great Sanhedrin (high court) of 71 judges would periodically add an extra month to the calendar and thereby transform any given twelve-month year into a thirteen-month leap year (like this year). One of these reasons was to ensure that the holiday of Sukkot would fall out during the harvest season! This necessity clearly demonstrates how crucial it is for Sukkot to be celebrated in the harvest season, since making the year into a leap year will consequently effect the rest of the calendar as well
There is a debate in the gemarra (Sukkah 11b) as to what our Sukkahs commemorate. Rabbi Eliezer’s opinion is that we commemorate the clouds of glory that HaShem protected Klal Yisrael with in the desert, whilst Rabbi Akiva’s opinion is that we are commemorating the fact that Bnei Yisrael actually lived in Sukkahs in the desert on the way out of Egypt. Now Rabbi Eliezer’s view is easily understandable; we relive HaShem’s protection of us and give thanks to Him for it. But what about Rabbi Akiva - what exactly are we commemorating; why is it significant that Bnei Yisrael happened to live in huts in the desert? There are two approaches here; the Ramban and the Rash bam - both on Vayikra 23:43. The Ramban writes that we are noting and reliving that even though we lived in primitive huts in the desert, we still lacked nothing - HaShem provided us with everything we needed. But the Rashbam puts another slant on it. He writes that on Sukkos we remember that we did not always live in houses and cities and did not always have a hold in the Land of Israel. Once we re-sensitise ourselves to these, thus appreciating that even our very houses are cause to thank HaShem for, we are imbued with a feeling of humility and thankfulness to HaShem. This is especially apt for Sukkos - the time of the harvest - for it ensures that we do not have the self-dependent attitude of ‘I did all this without needing HaShem,’ and instead thank HaShem for the success of the harvest. Indeed, this is why the word ezrach (guest) is used by the Torah (Vayikra 23:42) in relation to our living in the Sukkah - for the Sukkah reminds us that we are only temporary guests; just like a guest who is dependent upon his host, we can take nothing for granted and we must appreciate everything that we have.
May we merit to spend as much time in the Sukkah as possible this Sukkos - realising that every second spent there is a mitzvah and an opportunity to be ingrained with kedusha and a feeling of gratitude to HaShem for all His kindness.
Imagine the following case. You wake up in the middle of the night, pick up a lulav (with its accompanying three species), and hold them in your hands until a few minutes after daybreak. Now one cannot fulfil one’s obligation of shaking a lulav at night, so in our scenario has our intrepid insomniac fulfilled his mitzvah of shaking lulav given that he was holding the lulav during the day? This is an old question which has been debated back and forth between the poskim. The Chazon Ish held that he has fulfilled his mitzvah, whilst the Chassam Sofer held that one had done the mitzvah. Their machlokes is based on what the Torah means when it said you shall take (u’lekachtem lachem) in reference to the four species. The Chassam Sofer held that it means that you must pick them up, in which case since our night-watchman picked up the lulav at night, he has not performed the mitzvah. But the Chazon Ish held that you shall take merely means to have the four species in your hands (as opposed to an active action of taking), and thus, since the four species were in our sleepy hero’s hands after daybreak then he has fulfilled his mitzvah. Personally I wouldn’t wake up in the middle of the night and stand there for a few hours with my lulav, just to be on the safe side!