The Message of Sukkot

No more excuses for ignoring a key mitzvah.

Rabbi Yehuda HaKohen,

 Rabbi Yehuda HaKohen
Rabbi Yehuda HaKohen

"The festival of Sukkot is a holy day whose joy and splendor we can feel only when we live in our beloved land, crowned with clear, turquoise skies pleasing to the eye and a pure, temperate, healing air, which together remind us of the hand of G-d, which brought us to the good and pleasant land of the Carmel, which renews in us strength, life, and the hope that Israel will once again flourish upon its open spaces." -- Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak HaKohen
The festival of Sukkot takes on an entirely different dimension when celebrated on our native soil.
Kook (Kol BeHadar)

The festival of Sukkot takes on an entirely different dimension when celebrated on our native soil. Jews who have returned to Eretz Yisrael can note the astonishing contrast between the holiday's observance in the exile and its performance within our borders. The atmosphere in Jerusalem is one of great anticipation, with people everywhere preparing for the week-long festival. Many are outside with their families and neighbors building their own unique brand of sukkah. On nearly every corner, children sell the four species with a wide variety of etrogim to choose from.

Seeing all of the different citrons causes us to appreciate Israel's current situation in comparison with stories of Jewish life in Eastern Europe generations ago, when Jews were often unable to obtain etrogim at all. In such cases a person would not be held liable for neglecting to perform the mitzvah as it was above and beyond anything he could practically do. But during those difficult years, the commandment of taking an etrog on Sukkot never disappeared. As soon as citrons could again be procured, the Jews of that region were once again obligated to perform the mitzvah.

This is comparable to the Torah commandment of living in the Land of Israel. The moment that the mitzvah returns to our hands, it once again becomes our sacred duty to fulfill. When the Jewish Nation was scattered throughout the exile and it was physically impossible for us to return to our borders, we were not held accountable for neglecting this commandment. But now that there is a sovereign Hebrew state over parts of Eretz Yisrael, Diaspora Jews are left without any excuses. Today a Jew anywhere in the world can make Aliyah and travel for free on an El Al flight to his new home - his true home - in the Land of Israel.

The central idea of the sukkah is trust in HaShem. The sukkah (whose flimsy construction makes it appear outwardly unfit even to be called a dwelling) is our tower of strength, protecting us from danger on these holy days. We must realize that it is not through the flimsy walls, but through the Law of HaShem that the sukkah becomes our shield. G-d decrees that during these days this structure shall be our dwelling, teaching us that true security lies in our trusting HaShem and knowing that no evil will befall us if we sincerely and wholeheartedly perform His
We were not held accountable for neglecting this commandment. But now....
Divine Will.

While many Jews may offer justifications for remaining in the exile and ignoring the mitzvah to live in Eretz Yisrael (see Rambam, "Laws of Kings" 5:12 and "Laws of Marriage" 13:19, Ramban's supplement to the Rambam's Sefer HaMitzvot no. 4, Shulchan Aruch, Even HaEzer 75:3, Ketubot 110b), these excuses stem from not understanding the inner message of the Sukkot festival - that Israel must trust in HaShem and follow His commandments, no matter how difficult. Although Aliyah can be both challenging and frightening, it nevertheless remains one of our most central mitzvot.

Today we are once again capable of fulfilling the commandment of settling the Land of Israel; and only through our conquest and settlement of Eretz Yisrael can we succeed in living up to our national mission of ushering in an era of total peace for humanity and bringing Creation to recognize HaShem's sovereignty over all.