With joyful hearts and great excitement, Jews around the world are about to leave the comfort of their homes and enter a sukkah, where they will spend the next seven (or eight) days.
Sukkah is one of only two mitzvos the Jew performs with his whole body, the other being yishuv Eretz Yisrael. The two are comparable, as the holiness of a sukkah is akin to the holiness of Eretz Yisrael.
We actually fulfill the mitzvah by simply being in the sukkah, even while sleeping.
The Torah states a reason for this mitzvah: It is a commemoration of the sukkos that Bnei Yisrael lived in after leaving Miztrayim. According to one view, this is actually a reference to ananei hakavod, the Clouds of Glory that protected our ancestors from both the elements and from enemies.
The Zohar reveals to us an additional facet of this inspiring Yom Tov.
Much like the teivah that Noach built to save himself and his family from the Mabul, the sukkah serves as a shield and a protection, a fortress against the powers of evil. The waters of the Mabul could not penetrate the walls of the teivah; nor, in this month of Tishrei, can the waters extinguish the love Hashem has for Bnei Yisrael.
While we are confident that we have been forgiven for all our sins on Yom Kippur, the days of Sukkos are also days of teshuvah; during Aseres Yemei Teshuvah we returned out of fear, but now we are coming back to Hashem out of love.
On Hoshana Rabbah we pick up — so to speak — our “kvittel,” for the decree of Yom Kippur is first finalized on that day. Harav Yonason Eibeshutz states that between the “writing” of the decree and its “sealing,” there are always ten days. For the tzaddikim these take place on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur respectively; for others, on Yom Kippur and Hoshana Rabbah.
While Sukkos is undoubtedly a time of great joy, it is also a time of introspection, as true joy can be achieved only through drawing closer to Hashem.
While the walls of a sukkah may be made of virtually any sturdy material that doesn’t have an offensive odor, only specific materials may be used for the s’chach. According to halachah (there are various customs), one should be able to see the stars through it, and a heavy rain should be able to penetrate it.
Many sefarim say that this is one of the focal points of the Yom Tov. We leave what in this mundane and physical world is perceived as a “permanent dwelling”, and move into a “temporary one.” By doing so, we are recognizing that in fact this physical world is really a “temporary dwelling.” By moving into a sukkah open to the elements, and from which one can see the sky, we are dedicating ourselves to looking upwards towards our Father in Shamayim as our only source of security and protection.
Harav Yonason Eibeshutz says that it is not for naught that our Avos chose to live in tents, and the tents of Yaakov are praised in the Torah — Mah tovu oholecha Yaakov. He also praises the will of Yehonodov ben Reichav (Yirmiyahu 35:6), who instructed his descendants not to build houses, but to live in tents all their lives.
“It lengthened their days,” the Rebbe Reb Yonason says. “For they had no fear of flames devouring their palaces, nor did they fear the sounds of enemies, or the ravages of epidemics. For they quickly cut the ropes and pulled out the stakes of their tents and traveled elsewhere.”
The Mishkan, a tent that journeyed from place to place, existed for 480 years. Its successor, a Beis Hamikdash made out of sturdy stone, was destroyed after only 410 years, and the second Beis Hamikdash after 420.
This is the lesson of the sukkah. What appears to be temporary has some sort of permanence, while what is thought to be permanent is actually provisional.
For the security of a stone palace is merely an illusion, and a mistaken belief in this illusion is what has repeatedly brought us into danger and devastation. Only when we fully recognize the feebleness and mortality of man and the infinite greatness of our Creator can we find security and protection. Only when we inculcate ourselves and our children with emunah and bitachon and dedicate our very being to a spiritual calling will we find true happiness.
Let us hearken to the message of the sukkah, and may we merit that its holiness accompany us through the year.