As anyone: why do we celebrate Sukkot? You'll probably hear something like - to remember (or commemorate) our dwelling in 'booths' in the desert after the Exodus - which basically translates into: thanking God for His special protection and care for the people of Israel during those forty years.
This also seems to be the simple 'pshat' of the sole pasuk in Chumash that explains the historical reason for this holiday:
"You shall sit in sukkot for seven days... in order that future generations may know that I made Bnei Yisrael dwell in sukkot when I brought them out of Egypt..." (see Vayikra 23:42-43).
Pay attention, however, to the special wording of this pasuk - for it doesn't command us to 'remember' (what happened in the desert), rather - we are commanded to 'know' ['lema'an yeid'u doroteichem' / as opposed to 'lema'an tizkeru']!
In the following shiur, we will show how this distinction can help us better understand the historical aspect of the holiday of Sukkot, and appreciate why the Torah instructs us celebrate this holiday specifically during the harvest season ['chag ha-asif'].
As you probably recall, we find both an historical reason, as well as an agricultural reason for each of the three 'pilgrimage holidays' [the 'shalosh regalim']. *
During the fruit harvest [chag ha-asif] we celebrate our dwelling in 'booths' in the desert = chag ha-sukkot.
Now the reason why we are commanded to 'remember the Exodus' in the spring is simple - it's because that event took place in the spring (see Devarim 16:1). Similarly, we received the Torah in the month of Sivan, hence we are to commemorate that event on Shavu'ot.
However, there doesn't appear to be any obvious reason for celebrating 'our dwelling in booths in the desert' specifically in Tishrei. After all, this holiday does not commemorate a single event, but rather an entire time period of our national history - that spanned over forty years. So what makes Tishrei special?
In fact, it might have made more sense to commemorate 'our dwelling in sukkot' in Nissan - together with our commemoration of the Exodus. Certainly, both events are related (as one followed the next); and furthermore, the very first mention of Sukkot in the Torah is exactly when we first left Egypt, right after the Tenth Plague:
"And Bnei Yisrael traveled from Ramses to Sukkot..."
(see Shmot 12:37 & 13:20!).
Nevertheless, the Torah insists that we commemorate our 'desert experience' six months later, in the month of Tishrei (a month that certainly doesn't lack holidays), and specifically at the time of our grain harvest.
Furthermore, as we mentioned in our introduction, the Torah doesn't command us to 'remember' this desert experience, rather to 'know' it.
In our shiur, we attempt to answer these questions.
The key to understanding the historical aspect of all of the holidays lies in one basic principle. The Torah is not interested that we simply remember what happened, rather it is more important that we remember why those events took place.
[Recall that in our shiur on chag ha-matzot / Parshat Bo, we applied this principle to our understanding of chag ha-matzot and korban pesach; likewise in our shiurim on the underlying reason for the four fast days in Sefer Zecharya.]
Applying this principle to Sukkot, we posit that we don't sit in the sukka simply to 'remember' [and express thanksgiving] that God provided for our needs during our journey through the desert; rather the Torah commands that we sit in the sukka in order to remember why that entire desert experience was necessary!
Therefore, our shiur will first consider why the entire desert experience was necessary. Then, we will show why the summer harvest becomes an ideal time to commemorate that time period of our history. Finally we will explain why we are commanded to know these events (not just remember them); and why seven days are necessary to accomplish this goal!
Let's begin by taking a closer look at the Torah's commandment to celebrate Sukkot, noting how the Torah focuses on commemorating the 'desert experience' (and not the Exodus itself):
"You shall sit in sukkot for seven days... - in order that your future generations may know that I made Bnei Yisrael dwell in sukkot when I brought them out of Egypt..."
(see Vayikra 23:43).
In our shiur on Parshat Beshalach, we explained how Bnei Yisrael's various experiences in the desert [after they left Egypt] could be understood as a 'training' period - initiated by God to help transform this nation of slaves into a nation capable of establishing His model nation in the Promised Land.
Even though this process began with a 'big bang' - i.e. the Ten Plagues, the Exodus, the splitting of Red Sea, etc.- those great miracles were necessary to convince Bnei Yisrael of their total dependence upon God (see shiur on Beshalach). However, that high level of miracles could be considered more of an 'attention getter' than an ideal. Sooner or later, Bnei Yisrael would need to learn to recognize God in their daily lives without the help of miracles. But this required a long 'educational' process that would spiritually prepare them for challenges of daily existence once they would inherit the Land of Israel.
In fact, Moshe Rabbeinu himself provides us with a beautiful explanation of the preparatory nature of the entire 'desert experience'! We need only quote from that speech, delivered to Bnei Yisrael as they prepare to finally enter the land, to understand the purpose of their experiences in the desert:
"All these mitzvot which I command you... keep in order that you live... and inherit the Land...
remember the way that God has led you during your wanderings of forty years in the desert - in order to test you with hardships to know what is in your hearts; whether you would keep His commandments, or not...
* "He gave you the manna to eat... in order to teach you that man does not live on bread alone, rather man lives on the words of God...
've-yada'ta" et levavecha...'
[In order that] you should know, that just as a father puts his son through hardship (to train him), so too has God put you through hardship" (See Devarim 8:1-6).
Note how Moshe explains how the 'manna' served as a 'training' food for Bnei Yisrael, to teach them in the desert that their food comes from God, so that when they enter the land of Israel - and make their own food - they will remember that God is the underlying source of their sustenance.
To support these introductory remarks, Moshe continues by explaining why this 'testing period' was necessary:
"...for God is bringing you into a good land... a land of wheat and barely, vines, figs and pomegranates, of olive trees and honey...a land where you will lack nothing...
* Be careful, lest you forget God and fail to keep His commandments. Should you eat and become satiated, and build fine houses and live in them... and everything you own has prospered...
* Beware lest you grow haughty and forget your God who took you out of Egypt...
* Lest you say: My own power and my own might have won this wealth for me.
* Remember that it is the Lord your God who gives you the power to get wealth..." (see Devarim 8:7-19).
It was specifically because daily life in the land of Israel would be without 'obvious miracles' - that this training in the desert was necessary! As Moshe explains, God is fearful that once Bnei Yisrael cultivate the land and provide for themselves, they may become haughty thinking that 'they did it all themselves' - and hence reminds them how they must always remember 'their lesson' from the desert.
According to Moshe Rabbeinu, this transition period of the desert was necessary to prepare Bnei Yisrael for the spiritual dangers facing their agrarian society, which they are about to establish in the Land of Israel. To recognize the hand of God in a miracle was easy - but to recognize His hand within the nature will be much more difficult.
This background provides us with a very logical reason for the Torah's commandment to celebrate Sukkot on a yearly basis.
As this danger of 'becoming haughty and forgetting God' is so real, it will apply to future generations as well, especially those who never experienced the desert! Hence, the Torah instructs Bnei Yisrael that all future generations must not only remember this 'desert experience', but they must virtually 're-live' [to know it] - by living in a sukka for seven days!
This background also explains the 'advantage' of celebrating Sukkot at the conclusion of the harvest season.
If we are sitting in the 'sukka' to remember why that desert experience was necessary - and if that experience was necessary due to the fear of haughtiness that may stem from economic prosperity - then the 'harvest season' [when economic prosperity is at its highest] is the best time to remember those events, for that is when the fear of haughtiness is greatest!
This fear was not only expressed by Moshe Rabeinu in his speech (as quoted above in 8:3-12), but see also shirat Ha'azinu (see especially 31:16,20 and 32:13-15!). Our own life experience certainly supports the credibility of this fear.
Just as dwelling in the desert prepared Bnei Yisrael for their entry into Eretz Yisrael, so too, our sitting in the sukka prepares us for the spiritual challenges that inevitably surface as we gather our produce & reflect on our 'profits' and wealth.
[See Rashbam on Vayikra 23:43, in contrast to the interpretation of Ramban to that pasuk. Our shiur will follow the direction of Rashbam, noting how he also quotes from Devarim chapter 8!]
Therefore, the Torah commands that we celebrate Sukkot at the climax of the agricultural year - as we gather the fruits and 'count our wealth'. It is specifically during this time of year that the spiritual dangers of affluence are greatest. At the height of the harvest season, we must not only 'remember' the lesson of that desert experience, we must actually re-live it, or as the Chumash commands us - we must know it.
The Torah's use of the phrase 'lema'an yeid'u doroteichem' takes on additional meaning when we consider the deeper meaning of the word 'lada'at' - to know. As we all remember, the Torah uses this word to describe the intimate relationship between husband & wife: 've-Adam yada et Chava ishto' (see Breishit 4:1). [It is not by chance that this word is also used to describe the Tree of Knowledge -'etz ha-da'at' in the story of Gan Eden.]
Later on in Sefer Breishit, when God takes a 'close look' at the people of Sedom - to punish them for their terrible sins - this type of intense relationship as well is described with the verb lada'at - see Breishit 18:21, [Note also Breishit 15:8 & 13.]
Similarly, in preparation for the Exodus, God wants to make sure that Bnei Yisrael will internalize the message of 'Ani Hashem' - that He is their God, and the only God: [See TSC shiur on Parshat Va'era / Ani Hashem.]
To emphasize this commandment, note again how the Torah employs the verb lada'at to describe this intense relationship:
"Therefore, tell Bnei Yisrael that I am God, and I will take them out of..., and save them... and redeem them with an outstretched hand... and take them as My nation and I will be their God ---
In order that you will know that I am the God who has taken you out of Egypt" (see Shmot 6:6-7).
In other words, to 'know something' (or someone) in the Bible entails much more the intellectual knowledge. To know - reflects an intense and very close relationship - to internalize that idea.
This can help us appreciate to meaning of 'lema'an yeid'u doroteichem' in Vayikra 23:43. We are commanded to sit in the sukka not just to remember what happened, but to know it - i.e. to totally identify with the purpose of that 'desert experience' and its eternal message.
Note as well how Moshe Rabbeinu used this very same word when he explained the purpose of the original desert experience: "And you shall know in your hearts..." [that this was a 'training' experience] (see Devarim 8:5).
This also explains the difference between the mitzvot of Pesach and Sukkot. The mitzvot that we observe on Pesach (and chag ha-matzot) are in order to 'remember' [lizkor'] what happened (and why), yet we are not commanded to re-live that experience - for it was a 'one-time' event in Jewish history. In contrast, on Sukkot, we must re-live that 'desert experience' for its underlying purpose is no different today than it was back then - to inculcate the eternal message that man should not become haughty at the height of his prosperity.
This background can also help us understand why the Torah requires that we sit in the sukka specifically for seven days. Note that all the agricultural holidays revolve around the number seven.
* 7 days of chag ha-matzot in the spring;
* 7 weeks until chag ha-shavu'ot;
* 7 days of chag ha-sukkot
As we explained in our shiur on Parshat Breishit [perek aleph], the Torah's description of the story of Creation in seven days emphasizes that the creation of what we call nature was not by chance, nor a 'balance of powers' among a pantheon of gods, bur rather - the willful act of one God, for a purpose. Therefore, each time that seven is found in Chumash (e.g. Shabbat etc.), it is to remind us that God is the creator of, and master over, all nature. Thus, it is only 'natural' that we find the number seven prominent in the agricultural holidays, as we thank God for His providence over nature, and recognize that He is the true source of our prosperity.
The above interpretation can also help us understand the importance of Shmini Atzeret. As the shalosh regalim come to their conclusion, we add one extra day of celebration, void of any specific mitzva, other than rejoicing with God. Even though it is the 'eighth day' of Sukkot, we do not need to sit in the sukka, nor do we need to take the lulav - for the preparatory stage is now over!
On the other hand, we cannot just jump from the desert right back into the Land of Israel. Instead, a time of transition is necessary to wean us from the 'desert environment' back to daily life. [This also emerges as a primary theme in Sefer Yehoshua.]
This may explain why we don't sit in the sukka on this 'final' day of Sukkot, for it represents how we must return to our homes. We keep the essence of our 'desert-like experience' - our closeness to God - and make it the basis of our daily natural existence.
From this perspective, one could suggest that we do not simply leave the sukka on Shmini Atzeret, rather we bring the sukka into our homes. We then rejoice with the Torah [dancing seven hakafot - just like Yericho!), for its mitzvot - that we received in the desert - enable us to continue the spirit of our 'Sukkot honeymoon' with God throughout the entire year
Based on the last point in the above shiur, we can explain our custom on Hoshana Rabba (7th day of Sukkot) afternoon to bring our 'keilim' (vessels) from the sukka back into the house - in preparation for Shmini Atzeret. This may highlight the primary purpose of this Yom Tov, i.e. to move the spiritual message of the sukka into our homes for the remainder of the year.]
[In a similar manner, the 7 days of Sukkot followed by Shmini Atzeret could be compared to the 7 day milu'im ceremony of the mishkan which was required before the special yom ha-shmini dedication ceremony (see Vayikra 8:1-10:1.). Note the from the eighth day onward, the mishkan became functional, but seven day are necessary as preparation. [Note also first mishna in Yoma - 7 days before Yom Kippur, the kohen must prepare himself etc.]]
The conclusions of our shiur may shed light on Chazal's explanation of 'pri etz hadar' (see Vayikra 23:40). Rashi quotes two Midrashim for etz hadar:
1) A tree that the 'taste of its fruit' is the same as the 'taste of the tree'.
2) A fruit that 'dwells on the tree' from year to year.
(see Rashi 23:40 & Masechet Sukka 35a)
The first Midrash is quite difficult for it relates to what Chazal refer to as 'chet ha-aretz' - i.e. the 'original sin' of the land during the process of Creation (see Breishit 1:11 / & Rashi on 'etz pri'). Even though God commanded that the land bring forth an 'etz pri oseh pri' - a fruit tree giving fruit - the land brought forth instead an 'etz oseh pri' - a tree giving fruit. Even though there doesn't seem to be much of a difference between these two expressions, Chazal relate this minute change to the manner by which nature appears to 'hide' God, or act itself as a god.
This is a bit difficult to explain, [and the following is an over simplification of a very complex topic] but in a 'nutshell', when the tree gives fruit every year, it appears that the tree itself creates the fruit. When man contemplates this phenomena in nature, that trees 'on their own' can create fruit, he may conclude that trees have their own power - or that there may be some nature god who 'programs' these trees (how else does it know what fruit to make). In other words, man begins to see various powers within nature, and relates them to many gods (e.g. fertility gods, rain gods, grain gods, sun gods etc.). This leads man to 'worship' these gods to ensure that nature produces the proper produce and provide a successful harvest.
In contrast to this dangerous misconception, God wants man to realize that there is only one God behind nature, even though the way that nature works often leads man to a very different conclusion. [See Rav Yehuda HaLevi's explanation of perek aleph in Breishit and 'shem Elokim' in HaKuzari ma'amar revi'i.]
In contrast to all of the other trees that give fruit according to the standard one year agricultural cycle, the etrog tree is very different. Instead of its fruit growing in the spring and harvested in the fall like all other trees, the fruit of the etrog can stay on the tree year after year, or as Chazal explain 'ha-dar' - a fruit that lives on the tree from year to year ['ha-dar ba-ilan mi-shana le-shana']. This special phenomena sort of 'breaks the rules' of nature - indicating that there must be a higher power above nature! By taking specifically an etrog on Sukkot, we take a powerful symbol from nature itself to remind ourselves that God is above nature, and He alone controls it.
Relate the minhag to read Sefer Kohelet on Sukkot to above shiur and Devarim 31:7-13 (mitzvat Hakhel). Carefully compare the end of Sefer Kohelet to Devarim 31:12-13! Note also how Kohelet describes the spiritual problems relating to affluence.
Recall how our shiur was based on Devarim chapter 8. In that chapter, review once again 8:10, the famous pasuk that we are learning birkat ha-mazon from, paying careful attention to its context.
Then, review Devarim 31:14-21, noting especially 31:20, and the phrase 've-achal ve-sava...'. Note how these psukim thematically relate to Devarim 32:7-15 in shirat Ha'azinu!
Can you explain the deeper meaning of the contrast between 've-achal ve-sava ve-dashen' and 've-achalta ve-sava'ta u-beirachta'!?
We are all familiar with the custom to begin work on our sukka immediately after Yom Kippur. Although this custom is often understood as simply a great way to 'get off to a good start', ['mi-chayil el chayil'], it may also allude to something more significant
First of all, recall that the original Yom Kippur in Chumash was the day that Moshe came down with the second luchot and middot ha-rachamim. Recall as well that with the help of these middot, God had agreed to Moshe's plea that He return His Shchina to Bnei Yisrael, even though He had taken it away in the aftermath of chet ha-egel / see Shmot 33;1-8). Nonetheless, the Shchina itself, even though God promised that it would return, does not return immediately, rather - only some six months later - after Bnei Yisrael build the mishkan (see Shmot 25:8 & Vayikra 9:1-5!).
In fact, immediately after receiving the second luchot, the first thing that Moshe does is gather the people together and charge them with the building of the mishkan (note Parshat Vayakhel). Even though the Shchina is returning, Bnei Yisrael must become active in this process; they must do something to 'receive' the Shchina. Just like Moshe had to now carve his own second luchot ['psol lecha...' / see Shmot 34:1 (in contrast to the first luchot which God Himself had carved)], in a similar manner Bnei Yisrael must now become more active and build the mishkan.
The mitzva to build the sukka immediately after Yom Kippur may reflect this same idea. Just as Bnei Yisrael began to work on the mishkan after (and as a result of) Yom Kippur, we also begin building our sukkot in which can 'meet the Shchina' in a manner similar to the purpose of the mishkan.
We can also relate this to PART II of our shiur on Yom Kippur in regard to the deeper meaning of kappara.
Recall from our shiur on Yom Kippur that one aspect of kappara was to 'protect' man, allowing him to encounter the Shchina. If indeed our kappara on Yom Kippur was successful, then we should now be ready to encounter the Shchina. Considering that our sitting under the 'sechach' of the sukka symbolizes our sitting under the 'clouds of God's glory' in the desert ["sukkot kenegged ananei ha-kavod' / Sukka 11b], then Yom Kippur could actually be considered a preparation for Sukkot! To enable us to 'dwell' together with the Shchina in our sukka, we must first complete the process of kappara on Yom Kippur.
This thematic connection can help us understand many other halachot and customs of Sukkot.
For example, the gemara in Sukka 5b learns the minimum height of the sukka - 10 'tephachim' - from the height of the kaporet! [Recall last week's shiur which discussed the significance of the kaporet in relation to the Shchina / see also complete sugya in Masechet Sukka beginning at the bottom of 4b.] In fact, the same shoresh as 'sechach' is found in the pasuk which describes the keruvim on the kaporet: 've-hayu ha-keruvim... sochechim be-kanfeihem al ha-kaporet...' (see Shmot 25:20).
This pasuk clearly shows how the sechach of our sukka reflects our dwelling under the Shchina.
In Parshat Pinchas (Bamidbar chps. 28-29) we find a complete list of all the korbanot mussaf which we offered in addition to the daily tamid offering in the bet ha-mikdash.
If you make a table of the korbanot for each holiday, you will notice an interesting pattern:
On each of the Tishrei holidays (except Sukkot), i.e. Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, and Shmini Atzeret, we offer an identical korban mussaf - 1 'par', 1 'ayil', and 7 'kevasim'.
On each of the shalosh regalim (except Sukkot), i.e. chag ha-matzot and Shavu'ot, we offer an identical korban mussaf - 2 parim, 1 ayil, and 7 kevasim.
The mussaf of Sukkot is quite different, each day the amount of parim changes (from 13 down to 7), and each day we offer 2 eilim and 14 kevasim! [See Bamidbar 29:12-34.]
The additional parim are the most striking difference, and Chazal explain that these are added for the 70 nations for whom Sukkot is also celebrated (13+12+11+10+9+8+7=70). [See also Zecharya chapter 14, haftara on first day Sukkot.]
However, the extra ayil & kevasim also require explanation.
Note, that they are double the number that are offered on all of the other holidays. In other words, instead of 1 ayil we bring 2 eilim; instead of 7 kevasim we bring 14 kevasim. This indicates that there must be something 'double' about Sukkot.
The answer may be quite simple. Sukkot is both one of the shalosh regalim (see Shmot 23:14-17 & Devarim 16:1-17), and a Tishrei holiday as well. Therefore, it requires a double mussaf. In other words, it should have daily:
3 parim [2+1];
2 eilim [1+1];
14 kevasim [7+7].
However, we add an additional 49 parim [10+9+8+7+6+5+4] to reach a total of 70 [49+(3x7)=49+21=70], as explained above.
[Again we find 49 [7x7] related to the shalosh regalim.]
This may reflect the double nature of Sukkot. On the one hand it is one of the shalosh regalim in which we thank Hashem for our harvest of the agricultural year which has just finished. At the same time, we stand in anticipation of the agricultural year which is about to begin, awaiting its important rainy season (see shiur on Rosh Ha'shana), just as we do on all of the other Tishrei holidays.
This 'double nature' is reflected by the two times in daily davening on Sukkot when we hold the lulav & etrog, during:
1) Hallel - to thank God for the harvest of the past year;
2) Hoshanot - to pray to God in anticipation of the new Year.
Similarly, this 'double nature' may also reflect the two reasons that Chazal [see Sukka 11b] give us for sitting in the sukka.
1) sukkot mamash - real booths, to protect us from the sun.
This may reflect the aspect of the harvest holiday, where we need to build temporary booths in the field as we gather our fruits in the fields.
2) sukkot kenegged ananei ha-kavod - representing God's Shchina which protected Bnei Yisrael in the desert.
Regarding for celebrating each of the shalosh regalim.
In our shiur, we discussed the connection between the historical and agricultural reason for Succot. Now we will discuss that connection in regard to the other two shalosh regalim.
The fact that the Torah provides two reasons for celebrating sukkot should not surprise us. After all, the other two shalosh regalim - i.e. chag ha-matzot & Shavu'ot - also carry both historical and agricultural perspectives:
Chag ha-matzot not only commemorates the events of the Exodus from Egypt, but also must be celebrated at the onset of the spring. [See Shmot 13:3-4, 23:14-15, & Devarim 16:1-2.] Consequently, on that holiday the Torah commands us to bring the 'omer' offering from the first barley harvest (see Vayikra 23:10-11).
Similarly, even though chag Shavu'ot commemorates the historical event of matan Torah, the Torah presents it primarily as an agricultural holiday (= chag ha-katzir), marking the conclusion of the wheat harvest. [See Shmot 23:16 & Vayikra 23:15-17.]
This phenomena - that each of the shalosh regalim contains both historical and agricultural significance - begs explanation, and suggests that we search for a thematic connection between each perspective - for each holiday.
Recall from our study of Sefer Shmot that God orchestrated the events of the Exodus in such a manner that we would celebrate this event specifically at the onset of the spring. [See Shmot 13:2-3, 23:14-15, & Devarim 16:1-2.]
Thematically, this may suggest that our freedom from bondage reflects only the first stage of the redemption process, just as the spring is only the first stage in the yearly cycle of the harvest season.
However, if this assumption is correct, then we should extend this reasoning to the other two holidays as well. One could suggest that Shavu'ot and Sukkot, respectively, each focuses on a certain aspect of the culmination of the redemption process that began with the Exodus. Let's explain how.
Recall how the Torah presented a double purpose for the Exodus from Egypt:
1) to receive the Torah at Har Sinai
"... ta'avdun et Elokim ba-har ha-zeh" (see Shmot 3:12)
2) to inherit the Land of Israel
"…a’aleh etchem…el eretz zavat chalav u-dvash"
[See TSC shiur on Parshat Shmot.]
This double purpose may be reflected in the respective historical aspects of the two 'harvest' holidays that follow the 'spring' holiday. Clearly, Shavu'ot - the 'grain harvest' holiday - commemorates the events of matan Torah. Hence, we must conclude that Sukkot - the fruit harvest holiday - must commemorate in some manner our entry into the Land of Israel.
We discussed this aspect in detail in the above shiur.