Mitzvos of Sukkos

(Copied from Sukkos 5766. -micha)

There are many mitzvos that are specific to Succos. Aside from the mitzvos we can observe today, Succah, Hakafos, and the Four Species, there are also a number that can only be kept in the Beis HaMikdosh, including the 70 Musaph cows, and Nisuch Hamayim followed by Simchas Beis HaShoevah. The Yom Tov has several names: In tefillah it is called Chag HaSuccos and Z’man Simchaseinu (the time of our joy), in Talmud it is simply Chag, “Festival”, and in a more agricultural vein it is also referred to as Chag Ha’asif – the Harvest Festival. One would like to have an understanding of how this diverse jumble of facts combine to make one holiday, and what this festival is supposed to represent.

The Mishna (Pirke Avos 4:1) states “Who is rich? One who is “sameiach” with his lot.” It seems from here that Rabbinically “simcha” is contentment, satisfaction. Not just joy, as one would feel at particular occasions, but happiness as a general state of mind. We say in davening “Yismichu Hashamayim Visagel Haaretz”, “the Heaven will be ‘sameiach’ and the earth will ‘gilah'”. Simcha is reserved for the immutable heavens, whereas gilah refers to the transitory earth, even though both words are normally translated as happiness.

Using this we can understand a couple of the references we listed above. Succos is called “Z’man Simchaseinu” a time to feel simcha, contentment with our lot. Succos is to celebrate how Hashem protected us and fed us during our journey in the desert (Mishna Berura 625:1). It is thus a symbol of how He sustains us throughout all time. This is our lot, with this we should be happy. The Holiday is simply “Chag”, “Festival”, as its existence as a time for rejoicing is significant.

Succos is also Chag HaAsiph – the time for gathering the grain. Winter is beginning, and we thank Hashem for giving us the food to survive it. Thus Succos had to be in the Winter, when we feel the need for Divine aid more.

This is the joy of Simchas Beis Hashoevah. Rav S. R. Hirsch, in his commentary on Chumash (Bamidbar 29:19) describes Nissuch HaMayim, the special water libations as “pouring every drop of his joy in life into the foundations of the Altar of G-d’s Torah, signifying it as coming from Him”. Again, the key to Succos is found to be Simcha in the portion G-d has allotted us.

We remarked that over Succos and Shemini Atseres seventy Musaph offerings were brought. We are told that these 70 sacrifices correspond to the seventy nations of the world. “Poseiach es Yadecha, umasbiah lichol chai ratson” – “You open Your Hand, and feed every living thing what it desires” (Tehillim 145:16). In contrast to the message of Pesach, Divine Aid in sustenance is a universal theme, and all seventy nations must give thanks.

The special mitsvos of Succos are limited today to the taking of the Four Species, and the living in the Succah. These mitsvos are awesome in scope, the span the extremes of history. According to one opinion in the talmud when Adam ate from the Tree of Knowledge he picked an esrog. After the final battle before the reign of the Mashiach, the War of Gog and Magog, Yechezkel tells us that the nations of the world will demand to receive the Torah, so that they to can receive Israels lot. The prophet tells that Hashem will present them with the mitsvah of Succah, and that the one mitsvah alone will be to much for them.

There is another connection between the esrog and creation of the world. The Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 5:2) relates that in the original plans for the creation of the world the wood of each tree would taste like its fruit. The angels in charge of each tree refused to obey, as they were afraid that animals would eat the wood along with the fruit, and lead to the extinction of the species. One type of tree did obey Hashem’s wishes. The Gemara (Succah 35a) explains that when the pasuk asks for a “Pri etz hadar”, “A beautiful fruit of a tree” it means the esrog, for it is a fruit that is of the tree, the tree and the fruit have the same taste. It trusted in Hashem for its existence. Hashem protected it by prohibiting even the eating of the fruit of tree. It was the “Tree of knowledge of good and evil” it knew that trusting in G-d was good. Thus, when we are told to celebrate Hashem’s Sustenance, we honor the Esrog as a simple of simcha with what Hashem gives us.

There are two reasons one would need a building: for privacy, and for protection from the elements. The Succah has no restrictions on building its walls, only one the sichach, the ceiling. We move into the Succah not to diminish our privacy, but rather to diminish the man made protection from the elements. Only things fit to be utensils can become tamei. Thus, the sichach must not be of things that can become tamei. Those are things which are man’s making, the goal of the succah is to show we trust in Hashem for sustenance. Thus, the mitsvah of Succah is meaningful only in winter, when it is not the norm to be sustained in a hut.

In contrast, the final enemy is called Gog and Magog. Rabbiner Hirsch likens the conjugation of Magog to that of ma’or, lumniary. Magog is that which spreads the idea of “roof-ness”, that “my strength and the might of my hand gained for me this victory.” For them the only challenge could be succah. It is a universal theme: sustenance comes from Hashem.

At the end of days, the mighty nations will be faced with a test; can they rely on Hashem for their existence. This mitsvah is a fair test, as we said above Divine Sustenance is universal. At the first discomfort, they will fail. Without this key principle, they can not be a Chosen Nation. The giving of the Torah is likened to a marriage, with G-d The Groom presenting His bride Israel, with His ring, the Torah. A marriage requires mutual trust. Gog and Magog, without the ability to trust in the Lord, can not hope to maintain the special relationship the Jewish people have with the Almighty.

© 1995 The AishDas Society

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