Judaism: Entering the Sukkah, the Inner Sanctum
Rabbi Avraham GordimerThe writer is a member of the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) and the New York Bar.
The Torah’s presentation of the mitzvos of Yeshivah B’Sukkah (Dwelling in the Sukkah) and the Arba’ah Minim (Four Species) is quite perplexing, for the primary fulfillment of the mitzvah of Yeshivah B’Sukkah occurs on the first night of Sukkos and the mitzvah of the Arba’ah Minim does not apply until the following morning, yet the Torah presents these two mitzvos in the reverse order:
“And you shall take unto yourselves on the first day the fruit of a splendorous tree, a date frond, the branch of an intertwined tree and willows of a brook, and you shall rejoice before Hashem your God for seven days...You shall dwell in sukkos for seven days; every citizen among B'nei Yisroel shall dwell in sukkos – in order that your progeny should know that I caused B’nei Yisroel to dwell in sukkos when I took them forth from the Land of Egypt...” (Vayikra 23:40, 42-43)
Why does the Torah present the mitzvah of the Arba’ah Minim before it presents the mitzvah of Yeshivah B’Sukkah?
The Gemara (Sukkah 37b) addresses the symbolism of waving the Arba’ah Minim: Rabbi Yochanan explains that, "One moves (the Species) back and forth for the sake of Him to Whom the four winds belong; one lifts and lowers (them) for the sake of Him to Whom are the heavens and the earth."
Others quote Rabbi Chama bar Ukva in the name of Rabbi Yose bar Rabbi Chanina as explaining that, "One brings (the Species in supplication) back and forth to prevent bad winds; one lifts and lowers (them in supplication) to prevent bad precipitation." (See Rashi ibid.)
It is clear from the Talmud (Gemara) that the waving of the Arba’ah Minim reflects Hashem ‘s control over the universe and his involvement therein. This control and involvement are indicative of Hashem’s immanence in the universe as manifest through the wonders of nature.
The sukkah likewise invokes the concept of Hashem’s immanence, for the sukkah is compared in our liturgy to the Holy Temple, the Beis Ha-Mikdash, which is the ultimate locus of Hashra’as Ha-Shechinah (Manifestation of the Divine Presence) in the physical universe. Thus, the concept of Hashem’s immanence, reflected by the Arba’ah Minim, is reflected in an intensified manner through the sukkah.
This many very well be why the Torah first presents the mitzvah of the Arba’ah Minim and subsequently presents the mitzvah of Yeshivah B’Sukkah, despite the reverse chronological fulfillment of these two mitzvos, as Hashem’s immanence in a basic manner is perceived in the physical universe, while His immanence is more palpably and powerfully perceived in Beis Ha-Mikdash, represented by the sukkah, such that the Beis Ha-Mikdash/sukkah manifest an escalated perception of the Divine.
There is, however, a deeper level to this. The Beis Ha-Mikdash denotes a containment, as it were, of the Shechinah, such that each successive location in the Beis Ha-Mikdash as one moves inward toward the Kodesh Ha-Kodoshim (Holy of Holies) is permeated with a more potent manifestation of Hashem’s holiness that is increasingly restricted and off limits. The more the kedushah of the Shechinah is manifest, the more restricted is the access.
This notion and its application in the Beis Ha-Mikdash are derived from the Revelation at Sinai, in which there were physical boundaries beyond which one could not pass in that precedent public Hashra’as Ha-Shechinah experience: Moshe Rabbeinu was granted maximal access, followed by Aharon and his sons, followed by the elders and so forth.
What is the basis for the privilege of entry to the Beis Ha-Mikdash, and in particular to its inner sanctums? It is surely the spiritual level that one attains while outside the realm of the Beis Ha-Mikdash. The more one embodies a sense of taharah (purity) and becomes sanctified in the outside realm, and the closer that one draws to Hashem in the general universe, the more he can approach the Shechinah in the locus of its contained and more powerful manifestation.
So too, one who fails to perceive, appreciate and relate to the Divine as He is manifest in the general universe is not granted entry for an encounter with Him in the contained locus where His kedushah is more manifest.
The Arba’ah Minim represent man’s pursuit of Hashem in the physical, mundane universe, and man’s cognizance of His immanence and control therein. The sukkah represents meriting entry to the locus of contained and more pronounced manifestation of Hashem’s Presence.
Although the purification of Yom Kippur enables us to enter the sukkah without further preparation, the Arba’ah Minim as a reflection of the pursuit and relating to the Divine in the natural universe thematically precede the sukkah, which reflects subsequent entry to the inner sanctums of Hashra’as Ha-Shechinah. Thus does the Torah first present the mitzvah of Yeshivah B’Sukkah and then present the mitzvah of the Arba’ah Minim.
May we always seek Hashem and affirm His immanence in our daily existence, and merit in the very near future to enter the permanent abode of His Shechinah.