Rabbi Avi Kannai
Former Rosh Kollel in Memphis
While we have the mitzvah of “simcha” – rejoicing, in all Three Regalim, the simcha of Sukkot is emphasized in the Torah more than that of the other festivals. Regarding Sukkot, the Torah says explicitly “You shall rejoice on your festival …and you will be only joyouss.” (Deut. 16:14-15). Why is simcha emphasized more on Sukkot than on Pesach? After all, Pesach commemorates our redemption from Egypt and the fact that we became “Bnei Chorin” – free people. Isn’t the natural reaction of a nation that was rescued from slavery the ultimate happiness? Furthermore, this was the event that started our special relationship with HaShem. Some might try to claim that Pesach is only the beginning of a process, when we obtain our physical freedom. Our spiritual freedom is accomplished only on Shavuot, when we receive the Torah. If we follow this line of thought, we can conclude that we should be completely happy on Shavuot, at the end of the counting of the Omer which connected Pesach to Shavuot, thus marking the process which started on Pesach and culminated on Shavuot when we achieved our complete freedom. However, our Torah singles out Sukkot regarding simcha. Why?
Apparently, the Torah is delivering to us a very important message regarding the true meaning of simcha and of the Sukkot holiday. It seems that the Torah holds that the process that started on Pesach reaches its conclusion not on Shavuot but rather on Sukkot. The first step was breaking the chains of a foreign sovereignty, attaining our physical freedom. The next step was to achieve our own unique spiritual national identity by receiving the Torah. The third step was to implement this unique Torah in normal, physical, material life. This is the essence of the holiday of Sukkot.
Each of the three holidays has an historical aspect and an agricultural aspect. Sukkot is also called חג” ” – האסיף the Holiday of the Harvest, because it is celebrated during the season of gathering “from your threshing floor and from your wine cellar” (Deut. 16:13). Thus, Sukkot also culminates the agricultural cycle, when we harvest our produce. Obviously, the end of the process when we have our final product is the time of complete happiness. The two aspects of the holidays are parallel. We commemorate on Sukkot the fact that we were dwelling in Sukkot that HaShem made for us in desert, or the fact that we were dwelling in the “Clouds of Glory.” At any rate, as opposed to a “one time” event on Sinai, here we commemorate G-d’s continuous divine presence, which accompanies us in our daily life. This is the highest level of simcha.
Similarly, we are required to rejoice before HaShem at the time when we are naturally happy, when our final produce has been gathered. After receiving the Torah in the desert, we are expected to implement the Torah while we are living successful and productive lives in the land of Israel. This is the peak of the process which started on Pesach, and hence the simcha is truly complete. Furthermore, we take the natural simcha which every human being experiences in the season of gathering and we attach it to HaShem. Thus, the simcha the Torah speaks about is not merely a spiritual simcha. Indeed, the emphasis on simcha on Sukkot appears in the Torah in the book of Devarim, the context of which is Moshe’s instructions to the people of Israel about the transition of their religious life once they enter the land of Israel. Their challenge is to live a normal and productive life in the land of Israel and implement into it their spiritual ideals. They are required not to forget HaShem when they accumulate their wealth but rather to rejoice before HaShem with their wealth.
Actually, Sukkot is not only the culmination of the three holidays, it is also the conclusion of the holidays of Tishrei. After announcing HaShem’s kingdom on Rosh Hashana, doing Teshuva on Yom Kippur and experiencing ourselves as angels, being detached from all physical aspects, we are expected to implement the spiritual heights we reached on Yom Kippur on the holiday of Sukkot, when we celebrate with the material. From this perspective, on Sukkot we can reach a greater level than on Yom Kippur.
Rabbi Yehuda Halevi, in his famous book the Kuzari, makes an interesting remark regarding simcha. Usually, the two most common types of HaShem’s service – Avodat HaShem – are: Worship out of love (Ahavat HaShem), and worship out of awe (Yir’at HaShem). Rabbi Yehuda Halevi adds a third type – Simcha. As opposed to most people who would include simcha in ahava (love), his innovation is that this is a separate type. Worshiping HaShem out of simcha is very powerful. The worshiping of G-d is not limited to our spiritual existence. By worshiping G-d out of simcha we encompass all of our existence and aspects of being – spiritual and physical – and direct them towards the service of G-d. The outcome of this is a very powerful and energetic service of G-d, part of life and filled with vitality.
The powerful message of Sukkot is very relevant for our routine, daily life and reflects very much what Religious Zionism and Torah MiTzion stands for. Our biggest challenge is to worship G-d while living our normal, material, productive life, implementing the spiritual ideals in the natural world. This is the special mission we received from HaShem. By being successful in this mission, we will Bezrat HaShem reach the great and powerful level of worshiping Him out of Simcha.