Sukkot: G-d’s Holiday

Why do we celebrate after the High Holydays?

Rabbi Lazer Gurkow

Judaism Studio Ya Ya-designed sukkah at the Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem
Studio Ya Ya-designed sukkah at the Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem
Rabbi Lazer Gurkow

Why and When

Sukkot, the festival of Tabernacles, is celebrated on the fifteenth day of the Hebrew month Tishrei. The question is, why then? It celebrates the clouds of glory that G-d provided for our ancestors in the desert. For forty years, they were sheltered from the desert’s elements by clouds sent by G-d to surround them on all sides. 

We commemorate this by sitting in specially constructed outdoor huts, but the question arises, why now? Passover is celebrated on the day that our ancestors were liberated from Egypt. Shavuot, the holiday of weeks, is celebrated on the day that Jews received the Torah at Sinai. But what specifically occurred on the fifteenth of Tishrei that deserved a holiday?

The clouds were with our ancestors for forty years, why do we specifically celebrate in the month of Tishrei?

A Reversal

When G-d first unveiled His plan to give the Torah to the Jewish people, the angels in heaven raised a ruckus. “What is man that you reckon with him, the son of man that you consider him,” they asked. Place your splendor upon the heavens, where it will be truly appreciated.

Yet, G-d did not want to give His Torah to the heavenly angels. G-d wanted to pull off a major feat. He wanted earthly beings, who are naturally drawn too all manner of distraction and temptation, to accept His gift of Torah and savor it. He wanted the Jewish people to use the Torah to make the world a holier place. So, G-d gave His Torah to humans and the angels sat back to see how it would pan out.

On Passover G-d carved a nation of Jewry out of the Hebrews. This was at that time a nation of Jewish bodies. The souls of these people were not yet unique. Then on Sinai, G-d provided the Jews with unique souls that were perfectly suited to the fulfillment of G-d’s mandate.

In the beginning everything looked fine. Jews appeared committed and plugged in to the Torah. But then disaster struck. Forty days after receiving the Torah, Jews reversed course and turned to idol worship. This would not do. The angels appeared to be right and G-d appeared to have miscalculated. The Torah would indeed have been more appreciated in heaven than on earth. This was a low time for the cosmos.
ForgivenessEnter Yom Kippur on the tenth day of Tishrei. Moses, who would not accept failure as an option, insisted that the last page of the Jewish story would not be written with the Golden Calf. Moses appeared before G-d and begged, prodded and pleaded. Moses knew that G-d would not easily forgive the Jews, but this did not deter Moses. He used every trick in the book to convince G-d to give the Jews a second chance, which He did. On the tenth day of Tishrei, the day that would later become Yom Kippur, Moses climbed down the mountain with a new set of tablets in hand and a new set of instructions in his mouth. 

Moses declared that G-d had forgiven the Jewish people and that the Jews were being tasked with making a dwelling place for G-d, a tabernacle, in the desert.

This moment was G-d’s vindication. G-d had not gambled on the wrong horse. The Jewish people were indeed the right people to carry the Torah forward into the world. The Jewish story was the correct platform after all, for teaching Torah to the world.
SukkotWe now understand why Sukkot is scheduled on the fifteenth of Tishrei. Only five days earlier, the Jewish were proven to be the one and only agent that could fulfill G-d’s dream of having a home for Himself in this world. With this vindication G-d declared a holiday, five days henceforth.
This leads us to a truly interesting nugget. Passover is a celebration for Jewish salvation (from Egypt). Shavuot is a celebration of Jews receiving the Torah. Sukkot is a celebration of G-d receiving vindication. Jews did not receive anything from G-d on the fifteenth of Tishrei. G-d received vindication when Jews repented and G-d forgave them. Thus, Passover and Shavuot are Jewish holidays. Shavuot is G-d’s holiday and perhaps this is why it is so joyful.

This is why the holiday of Shavuot is described as” seven days for G-d” and a “Holiday for G-d”. G-d is the primary beneficiary of this holiday. Of course, Jews benefitted from the protection that G-d offered through His cloud canopy in the desert. But that was not for the sake of the Jews. That was to enable the Jews to travel to Israel where they would begin the work of making this a holier world.

We celebrate by erecting temporary outdoor huts to underscore our objective of making this world holy for G-d. Our destination, our permanent home, is not in this world, it is in heaven. We are merely here for a short duration just as the Sukkah is our home for the short duration of one week. Once this temporary journey is complete, we know we will re-enter the permanent home, where G-d who is permanently true will be visible and knowable to all.

Each Year

Sukkot falls on the same day of the Hebrew month each year. For Yom Kippur is the day of atonement for all generations. Not only the generation in the desert. On Passover we celebrate receiving a Jewish body. On Shavuot we celebrate receiving a Jewish soul. On Sukkot we celebrate the power that we receive on Yom Kippur to put the body to work as a permanent instrument of the soul.