We have seen in the last two columns that Avodas Hashem (serving Hashem) should come out of an innermost, natural feeling that is based on our gratitude towards Him for our very existence and everything else that He provides and does for us. Moreover, this is something that should stem from our own seichel (intellect), not needing the Torah system of reward and punishment. The need for this system, though, is rooted in the nature of man, as we have explained. However, we ultimately look towards acknowledging Hashem’s kindness from a compelling sense of hakaras hatov (gratitude). This service may be in the form of self-expression, thanking and praising Hashem, emulating Him and, in general, focusing on carrying out His Will as we understand it. But it also shapes, forms and gives new meaning to our servitude of Hashem in Torah-induced ritual. When performing mitzvos, we look beyond their rote performance (though fulfilling them in and of itself does constitute acknowledgement of our debt to Him through obedience to His will) and search for the ways in which these constitute our ‘Thank You’ to Hashem.
Let us now examine the inner secrets —and not so secrets— of the mitzvah of Succah, and apply the new ideas that we have learned!
“You shall dwell in a Succah for seven days… so that your generations may come to know that I had you (i.e., the Jewish Nation) dwell in Succos when I took you out of Egypt” (Vayikra 23:42-43). We sit in the Succah as one huge ‘THANK YOU’ to Hashem! We eat in the Succah —thank you! We sleep in the Succah —thank you! We schmooze in the Succah —thank you! We live for seven days with one continuous “Thank you Hashem”!
O.K., you are thinking “thank you..” for what?
Let us see:
- From the words of the Tur in Orach Chaim (section 625), it sounds like another opportunity (similar to Pesach) to thank Hashem for yetzi’as Mitzrayim and for, as the Tur states, “the great events and miracles of the Exodus manifest the reality of Hashem and His omnipotence over ‘nature’ (i.e., laws which He Himself established to be the “norm”).”
And why the Succah? (Tur is assuming that the Succah represents the real booths the Jews made while traveling in the desert after the Exodus) The meforshim explain that the Nation should have feared to dwell in the ramshackle booths that they made. Surely, more solid shelter should have been called for. Nevertheless, they had just witnessed the miracles of the Exodus and felt totally protected by Hashem. Rashbam adds that this also heightens our sense of appreciation for the houses and fields that Bnei Yisrael “inherited” when they conquered Eretz Yisrael. Will they ever be able to say, “My strength and the power of my hand have gained me all of this?”
THANK YOU HASHEM! As I eat my donut and sip my coffee, I look upwards and say, “Thank you for yetzi’as Mitzrayim, thank you for showing us Your reality, thank you for taking care of us in the desert, thank you for what you further provided us with as we entered Eretz Yisrael. This gives me a new appreciation for my warm, comfortable house with which you, Hashem, have provided me. Thank you!”
- Many meforshim maintain that there were clouds of Glory in the desert, surrounding Bnei Yisrael and protecting them from the elements and wild beasts in an open manifestation of the Shechinah. “Thank you, Hashem, for openly covering us with Your Glory! For having the Shechinah accompany us and protect us!” This is a separate thank you, a thank you for raising our status to one of a G-dly people.
Moreover, there is yet another thank you here, as explained by the Gra. By celebrating the Clouds of Glory on the fifteenth of Tishrei, we are actually celebrating their return after the sin of the Golden Calf, rather than “merely” acknowledging their original appearance. For when Bnei Yisrael worshipped the Golden Calf, the Clouds of Glory departed. After the Nation had repented, Moshe Rabbeinu went back to Har Sinai and returned with the second Tablets on Yom Kippur (the tenth of Tishrei). He delivered the message to build the Mishkan on the eleventh, on day twelve and thirteen the people brought all the necessary materials, on the fourteenth the materials were distributed to the artisans making the Mishkan. On the fifteenth, they started working, and it was on that day —the first day of Succos— that the Clouds returned!
Thus, says the Gra, we celebrate the Clouds that were returned to us through the power of repentance! The bonds of love between Yisrael and Hashem overcame His disappointment in our sin. Not only did He give us a second set of Tablets, He restored His affections towards us, by the return of His Clouds of Glory.
“Thank you Hashem! Thank you for the open miracle of the Clouds! Thank you for accepting our repentance!”
- Rokeach writes that the passuk’s intention is that we should celebrate the Bnei Yisrael’s living in Succos while waging war against Sichon and Og, and thus remember that it was Hashem Who gave us Eretz Yisrael; we should never think it was our own military prowess. Indeed, it has been said that the two mitzvos that one does with his entire body are dwelling in the Land of Israel and dwelling in the Succah! Thank you Hashem!
- The Malbim writes that the mitzvah of Succah essentially comes to teach us an important lesson for a Festival of Harvesting (another name for the Yom Tov of Succos). During the Harvest season, it is especially tempting for one to feel that one is the master of his own fate. Remember! Remember the Succos in which you lived in the desert! Remember that life is a temporary, fleeting structure, and that the only permanent joy is to be found in basking in the Glory of Hashem. “Thank you Hashem for this most important life-lesson!”
- Some view living in the Succah as representing a possible fulfillment of a punishment of galus that might have been decreed on us. “Thank you, Hashem, for giving me this opportunity to atone for my sins!”
My dear friends, this is not even “a drop in the bucket” of the attitudes, feelings, emotions, sensitivities and perspectives that one can and should develop vis-à-vis Hashem through His very mitzvos!
Gut Yom Tov!