Rabbi Ilan Goldman
Former Rav-Shaliach, Bnei Akiva England
Currently Executive Director of Project Aseret
Sukkot: The Festival of the Land
Sukkot is the last of the three Regalim. We all know that Pesach is a reminder of Yetziat Mitzrayim, and that Shavuot is a reminder of Matan Torah, the giving of the Torah. However, when it comes to Sukkot the message is a little less clear.
The Torah tells us that we dwell in the sukkah so that we should remember how Hashem had us dwell in sukkot when we left Mitzrayim. In which sukkot did our ancestors dwell? Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Akiva discuss this question in the Gemara: the former says it was the clouds of honor, whilst the latter understands it literally – referring to sukkot as we know them today.
Though the concept of clouds of honor is difficult to understand, it is Rabbi Akiva’s opinion which is not clear in this case. At what point exactly did Bnei Yisrael dwell in the Sukkot? We know that in the desert they were in tents – מַה טֹּבוּ אֹהָלֶיךָ יַעֲקֹב, ‘How good are your tents O Jacob’ – but when were they in sukkot?
Rav Elazar explains in Sefer HaRokach that at the time of their wars against Sichon, Og and the cities of Canaan, Am Yisrael lived in sukkot. Up until the time that they actually conquered the land, they continued to dwell in sukkot. Although the pesukim refer to dwelling in the sukkot at the time of Yetziat Mitzrayim, HaRokach proves that the entire forty years – including the wars at the end of the period – are included in the episode of leaving Mitzrayim.
The Vilna Gaon describes a remarkable connection between Sukkot and Eretz Yisrael. It is these two mitzvot alone in which we immerse fully, with our whole physical being. These two mitzvot are also unique in elevating all we do to the level of a mitzvah – for example eating, sleeping, or walking around in the sukkah, and hiking in Eretz Yisrael.
When we reach Sukkot, the end of the cycle of three annual festivals, we have therefore concentrated on the three great principles of Judaism: Am Yisrael (Pesach), Torat Yisrael (Shavuot) and Eretz Yisrael (Sukkot). However HaRokach leaves us a little puzzled in his following explanation. What is the purpose of the Torah telling us to know that our ancestors dwelt in sukkot? He answers that this is so that we won’t think that Am Yisrael lived in Eretz Yisrael since the time of Avraham, Yizchak and Yaacov. Rather, we all need to know that we once sat in sukkot and went to war.
My Rosh Yeshiva, HaRav Yehoshua Weitzman in his Sefer Mesos Ha’Aretz asks why we need to know that we once fought for the Land. He answers how important it is to remember that the Land was not handed to us on a silver platter, so that we do not take Eretz Yisrael for granted. Times of war demand us to define for ourselves our connection to the land, and what right we have to it. Today, we have ongoing problems – both from within and also from our neighbours in Israel. These seem to be a call upon us to reconnect and realize how rooted Am Yisrael must be in Eretz Yisrael. Sukkot, by serving as a reminder of our history, is therefore directly relevant to the appreciation of our existence today in the Land of Israel. Chag Sameach!
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