Judaism: What Makes the Sukkah so Special?
Moshe KempinskiMoshe Kempinski, author of "The Teacher and the Preacher", is the editor of the Jerusalem Insights weekly email journal and co-owner of Shorashim, a Biblical shop and learning center in the Old City of Jerusalem.
What is it about the sukkah that is so captivating? What explains the sense of complete serenity one experiences when sitting within it? Why is it so hard to leave the sukkah at the end of the holiday?
We have experienced the glorious crowning of Hashem on Rosh Hashanah. As a result it is only after that declaration of G-d's sovereignty that we feel empowered to begin that delicately intense trek into Hashem's very throne room on Yom Kippur. When that time ,spent in the midst of the “awe and majesty” is over, we take leave with a great cry. We call out the “Shma Yisrael” declaration and " then we “yell out” three times the phrase “ Blessed is His Name forever and ever. Finally we cry out with all the strength we have left “Hashem is G-d, Hashem is G-d”, seven times.
The silence that follows that seventh cry is the silence of infinity. It could and should last forever because in that silence there is nothing but G-d. It is only the long shofar blow that brings us back down to earth.
We return home and eat something to replenish our bodies. Yet our souls yearn for more.
It is then that it begins. All throughout the neighborhoods you begin to hear the sound of hammers and of boards being raised. Everyone is out on their balconies and yards building their sukkah. Some are out buying the four species gathered together for this holiday.
“And you shall take on the first day the fruit of splendid trees (Etrog ), branches of palm trees( Lulav) and boughs of leafy trees ( Hadas) and willows of the brook ( aravot) , and you shall rejoice before Hashem your G-d for seven days” (Leviticus 23:40 )
Rabbi Moshe Yitzchak Darshan, of the Musar Movement, painted the following picture in one of his lectures known as the Mussar Drashas,
“Imagine,” he preached, “that the Messiah would come to the cemetery and announce to all those interned in that place that they had been granted one more hour of life. ..What would those souls, granted with additional life, rush to do? With the knowledge acquired in the World of Truth, they would endeavor to do all the things that their Creator would desire. They would be doing mitzvot."
"They would be completely focused on achieving Divine purpose and initiate Divine pleasure. After the intense and glorious days of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur there is nothing that is more important."
The sukkah goes a step deeper;
“And ye shall keep it a feast unto HaShem seven days in the year; ... Ye shall dwell in Sukkot seven days; all that are home-born in Israel shall dwell in Sukkot; that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel to dwell in Sukkot, when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am HaShem your G-d.”
Our sages disagree as to the meaning of the verse, “that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel to dwell in Sukkot.” What is it that they are supposed to remember and know? Rabbi Akiva teaches that it refers to the actual booths that they lived in during their time in the wilderness. According to Rabbi Eliezer, the word Sukkot refers to the Clouds of Glory with which G-d protected the Jews.
Sukkot is the culmination and fulfillment of the spiritually redemptive process which began in the month of Elul . The Vilna Gaon writes that the heavenly Clouds of Glory that protected the people were restored on the 15th of Tishrei after having been removed following the sin of the golden calf in the month of Nisan. Such forgiveness by our Beloved can only engender in us a feeling of gratefulness and love. We then become engaged and preoccupied with our greatest source of joy, giving our Beloved what He truly desires.
This then becomes the great joy of being in a sukkah. This is why one experiences that great sense of calm and spiritual peace when just sitting in the sukkah.
There are three commandments of Hashem in which one is immersed in the mitzva itself in order to fulfill it. The three are the Mikveh (ritual bath), living in the land of Israel and sitting in the sukkah. With the Mikveh we return into the spiritual womb and in the land of Israel we become immersed in our destiny.
The Sukkah, however, becomes the “celestial embrace”, the Divine Hug, that empowers ,comforts and fills us with inner peace and joy. It is no wonder then , that we are told;
"and you shall rejoice before Hashem your G-d for seven days(Leviticus 23:40 )
LeRefuat Yehudit bat Golda Yocheved