Sukkot: A Divine Embrace

On Sukkot, we carry our lulav through the streets, raised like a banner, displaying confidence that we were victorious in judgment just a few days earlier.

Rabbi Shimshon Nadel,

Arutz 7

According to our Torah, the holiday of Sukkot commemorates the Exodus from Egypt:

You shall dwell in Sukkot for seven days...So that your generations will know that I caused the Children of Israel to dwell in Sukkot when I took them out of the land of Egypt... (Lev. 23:42-43)

If the holiday of Sukkot is so connected to the Exodus from Egypt, why not celebrate it in the Jewish month of Nissan, along with the holiday of Passover? Why not have the Passover Seder in the sukkah, with matzah, four cups of wine, four questions, etc?

Rabbi Yaakov ben Asher (13th-14th C. Spain), explains that we celebrate Sukkot in the fall so that it is clear to all that our time spent outdoors is specifically for the performance of a mitzvah. 

If Sukkot was held in the Spring, perhaps onlookers would think we are sitting outside to enjoy the warm weather.  Instead, he concludes, we celebrate Sukkot now, in the Jewish month of Tishrei, which is the beginning of the rain season here in the Land of Israel (Tur, Orach Chayyim, 625). 

This answer, however, is difficult to understand. If it is supposed to be "recognizable" that we are sitting outside not to enjoy the nice weather but rather to perform a mitzvah, why not have Sukkot in the middle of December or January?  Surely then it would be obvious that we are not sitting outside for our pleasure!

There is a deeper reason as to why Sukkot is celebrated this time of year.  It is no coincidence that Sukkot is in the month of Tishrei, immediately following Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. On Rosh Hashanah we stand before God in judgment. On Yom Kippur, we are purified; cleansed of sin. 

Sukkot is the manifestation of the closeness to Hashem that we achieved during these preceding days. 

Immediately following Yom Kippur, the preparations for Sukkot begin: We run around, build the Sukkah, buy the Four Species and anything else we need for the festival.  We are, all of a sudden, surrounded with many mitzvot to perform, a token of Hashem's benevolence; His closeness. 

On Sukkot, we carry our lulav through the streets, raised like a banner, displaying confidence that we were victorious in judgment just a few days earlier.

And while we are required to rejoice during every festival, Sukkot is especially joyous (See Rambam's Hilchot Lulav 5:12-15). 

In fact, in our liturgy, Sukkot is called the "time of our rejoicing."  It is the paradigm of joyful celebration; the "chag." That joy is a result of our closeness with God.

The connection between the Days of Awe and Sukkot is deeply rooted in our historical experience.  Our Sages discuss whether the Sukkah represents real huts or God's Clouds of Glory, which protected the Jewish People in the Wilderness (Sukkah 11b; Torat Kohanim 17:11). 

After the Sin of the Golden Calf, Hashem's Clouds of Glory were removed from the Jewish People.  On Yom Kippur, the Jewish People were forgiven for the Sin of the Golden Calf, and the Clouds of Glory returned. 

According to the Vilna Gaon the holiday of Sukkot commemorates the return of God's Clouds of Glory and with them, the Divine presence. (See the Vilna Gaon’s Commentary to Shir HaShirim)

As we sit in the Sukkah, God's presence, so to speak, surrounds us. 

In Chassidic thought, the Sukkah represents God's love.  The S'fat Emet, the great Gerrer Rebbe, compares the Sukkah to a chuppah, a wedding canopy.  It is the canopy under which the Jewish Nation is wed to Hashem, expressing our intimate and deep relationship with our Creator.

The Sukkah is also an embrace.  According to our tradition, to be kosher the sukkah must have at least two walls and a tefach, a handbreadth.  The "two walls" and a "handbreadth" could appear like an arm providing a great big hug. After going through the Days of Judgement, isn't that all we need?