Rabbi's Corner

Emor  – Rabbi Ismach – May 7, 2017

 

Why do we Live in a Sukkah

 

The Torah tells us that on the 15th day of the seventh month, after the grains are harvested, we celebrate this holiday. We take the Arbah Minim and we celebrate and are happy. 23:42: You shall dwell in sukkahs for a seven day period; every citizen in Israel shall dwell in Sukkahs. So that your generations will know that I caused Bnai Yisrael to dwell in Sukkahs when I took them from the land of Egypt; I am Hashem, your God. This is one of the few instances in the Torah where a reason is openly given for the mitzvah. But, what is a sukkah?

The first reference to a sukkah appears in Vayishlach: 33:16-17: And Esav returned on his way to Seir. And Yaacov travelled to Succos and built a house; and for his animals he built a Sukkah; therefore they called the city Succos. Rashi: did God make Bnei Yisrael live in actual booths? Rabbi Eliezer says it was the protective clouds of glory. Rabbi Akiva says it was actual sukkahs. Rashi quotes this other opinion of Rabbi Eliezer because it is more impressive than to say it was actual sukkahs, because what is the big deal about our ancestors living in booths?

Tur: quotes the same machlokes that Rashi cites; this mitzvah is all bound up with the Exodus from Egypt which entailed many miracles and events. This historical event testifies about God’s intervention in the world, and His absolute rule over all events; so these experiences are important to document; it helps define our belief in God’s powers and involvement in all facets of this world. And these sukkahs that we were supposed to dwell in, these were the clouds of glory which protected the people from the blazing sun and the difficult environment. So we are commanded to live in sukkahs to remember these miracles. But, although we were taken out in Nissan, we don’t dwell outside when it is comfortable and warm since everyone does that; it won’t be a theological moment. Therefore, we do it in Tishrei when it is often rainy and cold, and people are normally indoors – doing it then shows we are doing it for the mitzvah. Bach: this is one of the two places that the Tur gives a reason (the other tzitzis) for a mitzvah; since it has a reason, it tells us that you do not fulfill the mitzvah of sukkah unless you understand the purpose of the sukkah and the holiday, and why we do it this time of year, etc…; one has to think hard when we say Kiddush. Shulchan Aroch: these are the clouds of glory, and it is a Mitzvah to build it immediately after Yom Kippur.

And what about Rabbi Akiva’s opinion? What would be the big deal of remembering that God put us in booths? Levush: What difference would it make if they dwelt in booths or in tents that we need to remember it? We remember that it was not an actual sukkah – it was something miraculous and we live in the sukkah to remember the miracle of the clouds of glory. This still doesn’t answer the question on Rabbi Akiva.

Ramban: for those who say it was actual sukkahs, the mitzvah helps us remember that they started to build them when it was getting cold in Tishrei; we commemorate that by building sukkahs when it gets cold outside. And it reminds us that we were in the desert for 40 years and somehow we survived with God’s intervention. That itself is unique and miraculous and had never happened before – an entire nation lived in tiny booths for 40 years in the hostile desert.

Rabbeinu Bachya: The purpose was so that it would become publicized to the rest of the world how the Jews went with their wives and children and to live in the desert all of this time, and somehow God prepared everything they needed for survival; who would have thought that we could have survived; and it is great merit that we followed Hashem into this hostile environment. It is an incredible statement of faith in Hashem.

Rashbam: it was actual succahs – it is the harvest season, we are happy and satisfied with all of the stored grains. By sitting out in the sukkah we can give thanks to Hashem who made it all possible. We go into the sukkah to remember all that God gives us – we build the sukkah out of materials left over from the harvest, materials that are not edible, to show all of the good that God does for us. Otherwise we would just look about our beautiful homes and not think about God – by looking around the sukkah it makes us appreciate all that God does for us.

Moreh Nevuchim: It is a seven day holiday to give us enough time to make the point; we have time off from our routine daily obligations and work; it is an ancient idea to have a holiday like this after the annual harvest; we would make a sacrifice of part of all that we have been granted. Also, it is a good time of year to sit in a sukkah – it is not yet cold and rainy, not too hot – the point is to remember the bad times during a time when it is good for us; if forces us to know the story; we sit in a sukkah to remember what was, to remember where we came from in order to appreciate where we are now; we go out into a nomad’s life because that is what we used to be, that is the difficult life we used to have. We get plugged into our historic consciousness.

Rokeach: when the Jews entered into the land of Israel, that is when they dwelt in the sukkahs; they would be camouflaged until they would capture part of the land. It is still called part of Yitzi’as Mitzrayim until we were finally settled in the land. In the battles for the land, we were busy living in sukkahs and we came out victorious. When we are sitting in the sukkah we are remembering what it was like during the conquest for Eretz Yisrael, rather than life in the desert. It is something we don’t normally think about and memorialize.

Orach Hashulchan: We purposely sit in the sukkah in Tishrei because Hashem wants to show that even though we are sinners, He still has not removed His provenance from us, and in His shadow we dwell. Even though we made the Egel after Matan Torah, Hashem forgave us, gave us another set of Luchos on Yom Kippur, and then commanded us to make the Mishkan where He would dwell. This mitzvah is a symbol of the fact that even though we are sinners all year, on Yom Kippur He forgives our sins when we do Teshuvah – that is why immediately after Yom Kippur we build the sukkah in order to show that we return and dwell in the shadow of God. As it says, Betzailo Chemdosi Veyashavti – this is the mitzvah of sukkah; it shows that despite our sins, Hashem loves us and protects us for all troubles and harm, and He returns us to live in His shadow and under His protective wings.

Tuesday, May 23 2017 27 Iyyar 5777