Sukkot

Yaakov’s Yerusha

October 4, 2017

Naaleh_logo Shiur provided courtesy of Naaleh.com

Summary by Channie Koplowitz Stein

            As we leave the Days of Awe with the close of Yom Kippur and begin our preparations for Sukkot, we are left to ponder the deeper significance of the holiday and the central command to dwell in sukkot for seven days. Is there a connection between Yom Kippur and Sukkot that Sukkot follows so closely after Yom Kippur? Are there other connections we need to explore?

            Our Sages note two rationals for the observance of Sukkot, both connected to our sojourn in the desert. First, these temporary shelters are to remind us of the actual temporary shelters we resided in during our forty years in the desert. The second understanding is that while we are being surrounded by the ephemeral walls of the sukkah we should remember the clouds of Glory with which Hashem surrounded us and protected us in the desert. Additionally, the Tur notes that each of the three foot festivals is associated with one of our patriarchs. Sukkot is associated with our Patriarch Yaakov because the Torah records that after Yaakov met his brother Esau, after they parted in peace, Yaakov “journeyed to Sukkot and built himself a house, and for his livestock he made shelters/sukkot; he therefore called the name of the place Sukkot.” This too is another idea we must explore.

            We must remember that throughout our history, Esau is associated with the Satan, always trying to lead us to sin as the means to our destruction, a goal he was not able to achieve with his brother Yaakov, our ancestor. In this context, we can begin our discussion of Sukkot and its connection to both Yaakov Avinu and to Yom Kippur.

            The Shvilei Pinchas offers a profound discussion that begins to connect all of our questions. Putting Yaakov’s going to Sukkot and building a home for himself and sukkot for his animals into context, the Shvilei Pinchas first notes that when we dwell in the sukkah, the sukkah protects us from the prosecutor/Satan whom we have just defeated on Yom Kippur, just as Yaakov had just defeated Esau and his guardian angel. Hashem wants to rejoice with us, Yaakov’s descendents, as He rejoiced with Yaakov in his home. But our past victory through the teshuvah process does not guarantee that the Satan will not return. In fact, he will return to attack with even greater vengeance, hence we are grateful for Hashem’s protection.

            Rosh Hashanah as a day of judgment dates back to the beginning of time, to Adam himself. Adam was not only created on Rosh Hashanah but sinned by eating the forbidden fruit on that very day. With that sin, Adam brought death into the world. Every death since then, therefore, is one for which Adam is held accountable, albeit it was inadvertent, similar to an “accidental killing”. For this act, although Hashem forgave Adam and did not kill him instantly, Adam was exiled from Eden, just as later the inadvertent killer would be forced into exile from his home into a city of refuge.

The Zohar implies that Yaakov was a reincarnation of Adam, and therefore was forced into exile in Choron to continue the atonement for Adam. Similarly, each of us carries within us some responsibility for Adam’s sin, as Adam’s soul contained within it every human soul subsequently born. (Consider it mystical DNA that can be traced back to our original ancestor.) Each of us has that same battle, whether to follow Hashem’s command unquestioningly or substitute our own judgment for His. When we enter our sukkot, we are symbolically going into exile, as did Adam, and receiving Hashem’s protection.

                        Was Adam’s sin a defiant act toward Hashem? According to many commentators and supported by the verse in Kohelet: “God made man straight, but they have sought many calculations,”(7:29) Adam’s sin was not meant to be a rebellious act, but rather a “sin for the sake of Heaven”. Rabbi Aryeh Shapira in Chazon Lamoed explains Adam’s reasoning. Adam received a simple command, not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil. Yet, Adam thought there was minimal challenge in this. If he would know the difference between good and evil and still choose to follow Hashem’s command, he would glorify God’s Name more greatly that by just following His word blindly. Where did Adam get this idea? Our commentators say that the trees were the first to disobey God by similar faulty reasoning. Hashem had commanded the trees and their fruit to have similar qualities and taste. Yet the trees feared that if that were the case, mankind would eat the trees as well as the fruit, and the trees would be destroyed. So the trees made their trunks inedible while maintaining the taste of the fruit. This fault explains why the earth was cursed along with Adam after he sinned, for he learned this reasoning from them. Only the etrog followed God’s command exactly, and therefore became the model for proper acceptance of God’s will. Therefore, many people have the custom of taking the etrog with the accompanying species into the sukkah to make the blessing over them, combining the etrog and the sukkah, both symbols of following Hashem.

            Understanding this connection to Adam explains why the schach as the “roof” of the sukkah is its most important aspect. The Gemarrah suggests that the materials for the schach be the leftovers from the vines or from the wheat, for our Sages have identified the forbidden fruit as either grapes or wheat. (Other Sages refuse to identify and shame any plant.) When we use these for a mitzvah, we are rectifying the sin of Adam. Similarly, our Shabbat ritual of Kiddush over wine and Hamotzi over wheat bread also serve as our continued atonement for Adam’s sin.

            We are now ready to return to the more closely historical bases for dwelling in tents, the Israelites sojourn in the desert. When Bnei Yisroel stood at Har Sinai and proclaimed naaseh venishma/we will do and we will listen, accepting the Torah solely at Hashem’s word without question, they returned to the pure state of Adam before the sin. When they sinned with the golden calf, according to most of our commentators, they were not seeking a substitute god; rather they hoped that having a physical representation of God would enhance their ability to worship Him. Their reasoning was flawed, as was Adam’s, for Hashem had not commanded this. It was then that Hashem removed the Clouds of Glory that had surrounded them and protected them. But when Bnei Yisroel sought atonement and Hashem commanded them to build the Mishkan/Tabernacle, they accepted these commands joyously, completing each part, over and over again, as Hashem commanded. Then Hashem  responded by returning the Clouds of Glory to surround Bnei Yisroel. Our observance of Sukkot as a commemoration of the Clouds of Glory celebrates the return of this protection, notes the Gra, not the initial protection of when we first left Egypt.

            In a similar vein, the very fact that we followed Hashem into the desert without food or water, completely dependent and faithful to Him, was further proof of our unquestioning loyalty, continues the Chazon Lamoed, and is also an atonement for Adam’s sin and cause for celebrating. We followed Hashem with the same temimut/purity/wholeheartedness that our Patriarch Yaakov is known for, our patriarch who is called an Ish Tam. In fact, the Vilna Gaon makes an interesting numerical observation in this respect. He notes that the minimal measurements for a  kosher sukkah are seven tephachim square by ten tephachim high. Doing the math gives us 7= 49 x 10 = 490. This is the numerical equivalent of tamim, the adjective used to describe Yaakov, and the attribute we are urged to use in following Hashem.

            Rabbi Salomon in Matnas Chaim brings a completely different perspective to our discussion. An important part of the Yom Kippur service during the time of the Temple was the ritual of the two goats. One would be sacrificed to Hashem on the altar while the other was sent with a designated priest into the desert where it would be thrown off a cliff to the jagged stones below. The goat in Hebrew is a sa’ir, echoing another name for Esau. Rabbi Salomon presents the symbolism in this ritual. Just as Esau represents the materialism of this world and the negation of the world to come, a philosophy Judaism vehemently rejects, so does this goat represent that philosophy. We distance ourselves from this philosophy by throwing it away from us into the abyss. We pray for the connection to Hashem, a connection Esau tries to sever through his continued influence over our materialistic human desire.

            Our leaving our homes to dwell in the sukkah reminds us of the impermanence of this world and its comforts, writes Rabbi Kanatopsky z”l in Rejoice in Your Festivals. We need to rid ourselves of the philosophy that the pleasures of this world are a goal in itself rather than a means to the ultimate goal of connection to Hashem and the world of permanence.

            Rabbi Rebibo drives this point home by noting that according to the Targum Yonatan, Yaakov built a house for himself and sukkot/shelters for his animals. Yaakov built himself a house as a beit medrash, to study Torah and connect with Hashem. For his livestock and other possessions, he built simple shelters, designating these as temporary possessions in a temporary world. This is the realization we acknowledge on Yom Kippur when we realize our entire existence on this world is as ephemeral as a dream. We realize that true joy lies in our relationship with Hakodosh Boruch Hu rather than in more possessions. We are called to live in the physical world but still strive to feel Hashem’s presence all the time, as we should feel it on Sukkot. This notes, the Modah Lebina, is the paradigm of the Jews Sukkot in the desert, with the focal of their lives was the Mishkan, and service of Hashem.

            Hashem performed so many miracles for us during our forty years in the desert. Why do we single out the miracle of the Clouds of Glory and not the miracle of the manna, for example, asks Rabbi Heiman z”l in Chikrei Lev. To answer this question, Rabbi Heiman cites the Baal Haturim who notes that this spelling of Sukkot, missing a “vov“, appears only in two instances in the entire Torah. Here with Yaakov arriving at Sukkot and building sukkot, and when Bnei Yisroel left Egypt and traveled from Ramses to Sukkot. Rabbi Heiman z”l here makes a beautiful connection. He notes that when Yaakov was approaching Esau, he was experiencing his Rosh Hashana moment, would he live or would he die. Upon surviving this ordeal, with Esau expressing love for him and then leaving him, Yaakov wants to express his gratitude to Hashem. He builds the sukkot as security for himself, knowing that Hashem is protecting him. He calls the place Sukkot in gratitude and full faith that he can now sit without fear.

            This is the same faith that Bnei Yisroel exhibited when they arrived at Sukkot. They were able to sojourn there without the fear that the Egyptians would immediately pursue them.  The Clouds of Glory were Hashem’s response to Bnei Yisroel’s faith in blindly following Him and implicitly following Him into the desert.

            The two historical reasons for Sukkot are connected. Our sukkot on Sukkot are a reflection of Yaakov’s faith and of the faith of Bnei Yisroel, and a testament that we recognize that this world is but temporary, a portal to the Eternal World. Let us feel Hashem’s protection and embrace, and build our bayit and our sukkot as places where Hashem can reside with us in joy.

           

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