Rabbi Moshe Aberman
Former Rosh Kollel (Chicago, 1997-1999)
Currently a Torah advisor to the Shlichim
“You shall live in booths (Sukkot) seven days; all citizens in Israel shall live in booths” (Vayikra 23/42).
Go from your homes and dwell in the Sukkot as the Rabbis describe:
MISHNA: All seven days a person renders his sukka his permanent residence and his house his temporary residence.
Why is it that the Torah wants us to reside in a sukka?
The Torah commands us to reside in the sukkah, so as to establish our awareness and that of future generations that God placed the Jewish people in sukkot, when coming out of Mitzrayim and journeying in the dessert. Two phrases in the pasuk should be noted. The Torah speaks of “when I brought them out of the land of Egypt”, rather than when they dwelled or traveled, in the dessert. The focal point is leaving Egypt, as the Midrash Sifra notes, “when I brought them out of the land of Egypt – teaches that the sukkah too commemorates the exodus from Egypt”. (Sifra Emor parsha 12 beginning of chapter 17) Additionally, the Torah concludes with the words “I the Lord your God” directing our attention to the fact that the commemoration is to reinforce the awareness of God deeds.
What is the Torah teaching by focusing on the exodus from Egypt rather than the time in the dessert?
When the Jews leave Egypt two things occur. They detach themselves from the Egyptian nation and begin to develop an independent, national – religious identity that reaches a pinnacle at Mount Sinai where they receive the Torah. On the other hand, by leaving Egypt they lose a certain life of financial comfort and economic security. Time after time when facing hardships the people return to claims of “we would rather return to Egypt” or just “It was good for us in Egypt”. In spite of the enslavement, Egypt offered safety and financial security.
God’s guiding hand, when leaving Egypt, directs the spiritual development, while at the same time offering a replacement for the Egyptian financial security, by supplying the nation with all there needs.
Sukkot links together two sets of Holidays. On the one hand, it represents the completion of the Three Regalim, accompanying the agricultural cycle, “the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you gather in the results of your work from the field”. On the other, it is the last of the Holidays of Tishrei, “On the fifteenth day of the seventh month (Tishrei)”, “In the seventh month you will celebrate it”. Sukkot is celebrated at “Tekufat Hashana” that can be understood, as Rashi elucidates, at the turn of the year, at its beginning. However, this phrase can be read as strength and power, when you gather the crops and feel a sense of economic strength and security.
When we reside in sukkot, we remember, it was God who placed the Jewish people in sukkot, and He who supplied their needs when departing from Egypt. On Sukkot, we aspire to maintain the spiritual level achieved during Rosh Hashana and Yom Kipur. Residing in a sukkah remind us that only under the leadership of god can significant and meaningful spiritually be achieved. While on the other hand, specifically when we feel strong and secure, we are called by leaving our homes and residing in the sukkah, to remember, it is God’s good grace that endows us all this prosperity.
It can be suggested that this is the background of the dispute between Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Akiva, were the sukkot, referred to in the pasuk, the Ananei Hakavod (clouds of Glory) or literal sukkot. Both would agree that there were Ananei Hakavod as well as literal portable housing units as Bilam notes “מה טובו אהליך יעקב”,”How fair are your tents, O Jacob”.
The question they struggle with is whether the central lesson of the sukkah is the Ananei Hakavod and the spiritual guidance reflected in that concept? Alternatively, does the pasuk refer to literal sukkot, which remind us of our dependence on God for sustenance? Possibly, both are true and both should be what we reinforce in our hearts when sitting in a sukkah.
May we all have a joyful and meaningful Sukkot.