Judaism: Divrei Azriel: The Essence of Thanks
YU RIETS Israel KollelArutz Sheva brings you the weekly parsha sheet "Divrei Azriel" put out by Yeshiva University REITS kollel in Israel.
The Tur writes that the Shalosh Regalim - Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot, correspond to the three patriarchs. The festival of Pesach corresponds to Abraham, Shavuot is associated with Yitzchak, and the holiday of Sukkot relates to Yaakov.
The connection between Abraham and Pesach is reflected by the story of the angels' visit to his tent, which, according to our tradition, took place on Pesach. Shavuot commemorates the event of Matan Torah, the Revelation at Sinai, and our Sages teach that the Shofar sound that Bnei Yisrael heard at the time of Matan Torah was produced by a horn taken from the ram of Akeidat Yitzchak.
But while these associations are fairly straightforward, the connection between Yaakov and the holiday of Sukkot seems far more obscure. The basis of this association is from our parsha (33:17), which tells that when Yaakov arrived back in Canaan after his peaceful reunion with his brother, Yaakov built "Sukkot," shacks, for his cattle, and on account of these shacks the site was called "Sukkot." These "Sukkot" that Yaakov built for his sheep form the basis of the connection between him and the annual celebration of Sukkot.
How are we to understand this connection? Why does the Torah go out of its way to tell us that Yaakov built huts for his herds, and how does this relate to the festive occasion of Sukkot?
Rav Bergman explained that Yaakov built shelters for his cattle because he felt indebted even to his animals. The importance of "Hakarat Ha'Tov," gratitude, was so deeply ingrained within Yaakov's consciousness that it led him to feel appreciative even to his flocks, which were his family's source of livelihood. Remarkably, he felt he owed it to his sheep to provide them with comfortable living quarters, which would protect them from the elements.
This is why Yaakov is associated with the festival of Sukkot, when we celebrate to give thanks to Hashem for all we have. When the time comes to say "Thank you" to Hashem, we are reminded of the example of our patriarch Yaakov, who took this value so far as to feel indebted to his animals. We must strive to learn from his example to be grateful, to appreciate all we've been given, and to be thankful for what we have, rather than complain about what we don't have.
This is the great legacy of Yaakov which we are obliged to preserve and pass down to the next generation.
[Adapted from Eric Wittenberg who adapted it from Rabbi Eli Mansour]