OU Torah Insights
Sukkot 1st Day
October 14, 2000
Every holiday mentioned in the Torah marks an event in the history of the Jewish People that occurred on a specific date, except for
Pesach commemorates the Exodus from Egypt, which took place on the 15th of Nissan.
Shavuot marks matan Torah, which occurred on the 50th day after y'tziat Mitzrayim. According to the tradition that we follow,
Rosh Hashana corresponds with the 6th day of creation -- the day humans were created. It was on the 10th of Tishrei that Moshe Rabbeinu came down from Mt. Sinai for the second time with the second set of "tablets" and the Divine forgiveness for the sin of the golden calf. That day is
Yom Kippur -- The Day of Atonement.
So too, the other dates on the Jewish calendar. Purim,
B'Av, Yom Ha'atzmaut and Yom
Yerushalayim, all occur on a specific date.
This is not the case for Sukkot. Nothing specific happened on the 15th of Tishrei, the day we begin Sukkot. (The
Vilna Gaon actually does give a specific event for 15 Tishrei. He writes that the heavenly clouds of glory that protected the people were restored on the 15th of Tishrei. They had been removed following the sin of the golden calf. Though this is his explanation for the date of Sukkot there is still no specific event cited in the bible that is associated with the 15th of
Rather than mark a specific event, Sukkot can be viewed as a composite of the simcha (joy) inherent in the cycle of Jewish holidays.
Begin with Pesach, the "Time of our Redemption." The joy we feel over being freed from Egyptian bondage are mixed with apprehension for the future. If we relive the experience of the Exodus, as the Haggada bids us to do, then Pesach is a nervous time as well as a happy one. Filter out all other emotions associated with Pesach and retain the joy factor. Place that into another 7-day period beginning on the 15th day of the other first month of the year (Tishrei) and you have the basis of Sukkot. The Torah clearly states the Exodus-commemorative aspect of Sukkot, and the Talmud points out the parallel between Sukkot and Pesach, both starting on the 15th and of 7-day duration.
Now take Shavuot. The time of the giving of the Torah. Joy? Absolutely. But other emotions mix in as well. There is the awe of the Sinai experience. G-d lifted the mountain over the heads of the people of Israel and presented them with an ultimatum. There is serious commitment blended with joy. "What have we gotten ourselves into?" Distill out the joy factor of Shavuot, transplant it as an Atzeret (this is the Mishnaic name for Shavuot) for the other "Pesach" festival, and you have Shmini Atzeret (Simchat Torah). A joyous celebration of the Torah in a purer form.
The Yamim Nora'im, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, are serious times, yet there is an element of joy present which almost gets lost in the mood of the days of awe. That joy stems from our confidence in our special relationship with G-d. We firmly believe that the mutual affection expressed by ani l'dodi v'dodi li will bring about the Divine forgiveness and atonement that we seek. But with the heavenly books of life and death open before the King of kings, how can we sing Hallel? Extract the element of joy from this period and add it to the holiday that immediately follows, namely, Sukkot, with Hoshana Raba as the day of the final G'mar Din. With the chazzan in kittel, melodies of Yamim Nora'im during the davening, and special prayers for favorable judgment, Hoshana Rabah adds the element of simcha to the teshuva process that often is absent from the first part of Tishrei. This is Sukkot. z'man simchateinu, the season of our joy. That is not just a name; it describes the essence of
The Torah reading for the first day of Sukkot confirms this "composite of simcha" theory. On all the other holidays, the Torah reading is specific to the holiday. On Sukkot, we read about the cycle of holidays (Vayikra 23).
Given that when these holidays were created Israel was an agricultural society, the autumn is the most joyous of seasons. With the harvest completed the farmer can now enjoy his festival with a complete heart and a full measure of joy.
Let us all enjoy this Sukkot to the fullest. Let that joy be a spiritual one, with a healthy and kosher mixture of physical pleasure as well. This highest form of service to
HaShem can be achieved only with feelings of simcha. And may we be privileged to see the erecting of sukkat david hanofelet, the
HaMikdash, speedily in our time.
Adapted from Torah
Written by Phil Chernofsky, Director of Education OU/NCSY Center in