The Joy of Sukkos

B’chamishah asar yom l’chodesh ha’shevi’i hazeh Chag haSukkos shivas yamim l’Hashem (Vayikra 23:34)

According to one opinion in the Gemara in Sukkah (11b), we are commanded to sit in sukkos in order to remember the miracle of the Clouds of Glory which surrounded the Jews during their travels through the wilderness. As this miracle began immediately upon the Exodus from Egypt, a number of commentators question why the holiday commemorating the miracle takes place in Tishrei and not in Nisan, when the miracle began?

The Vilna Gaon answers that we aren’t remembering the Clouds of Glory which initially protected the Jews in Nisan, as those clouds were taken away at the time of the sin of the golden calf. Rather, we are commemorating the clouds which returned on the 15th day of Tishrei after Hashem forgave the Jewish people, and which remained to surround and protect them for the duration of their sojourn in the wilderness. He explains that the Jews were forgiven on the 10th of Tishrei (Yom Kippur), and on the 11th Moshe commanded them regarding the building of the Mishkan. They brought their contributions for the Mishkan for two days (Shemos 36:3), the 12th and the 13th, and on the 14th Moshe realized that the donations were sufficient and announced that no more should be brought (36:6).

On the following day, the 15th of Tishrei, the work began on the building of the Mishkan and on that day, the Clouds of Glory returned to the Jewish camp, which we celebrate and remember on Sukkos. If the purpose of Sukkos is to celebrate the forgiveness which the Jewish people received, as symbolized by the return of the Clouds of Glory, why is it that the clouds did not return immediately after Yom Kippur and why doesn’t Sukkos begin on the 11th day of Tishrei?

Harav Mattisyahu Salomon, shlita, writes that people assume that the highest level of forgiveness is that Hashem will completely erase the sin as if it never happened. However, in teaching the fundamentals of proper repentance, Rabbeinu Yonah (Shaarei Teshuvah 1:42) explains that there is an even higher level. He writes that it is possible for Hashem to completely erase a sin and any decree of punishment which may have been associated with it, and nevertheless, Hashem still has no interest in the person’s Divine service. In addition to confessing his sins and promising not to return to them, a person must also beseech Hashem to allow him to once again find favor in His eyes so that his mitzvos will be desired by Him.

Although Hashem said that He forgave the Jewish people on Yom Kippur, they obviously had yet to reach the highest level of forgiveness, which is manifested through Hashem allowing a person to serve Him through the performance of mitzvos. It was only through their continued repentance in the days following Yom Kippur that they finally reached the level of finding Divine favor. This was revealed through Hashem allowing them to begin the construction of the Mishkan, which was to be His unique dwelling place in this world, on the 15th of Tishrei, and on that day the Clouds of Glory returned to signify that they had been completely forgiven.

After the difficult period of introspection and teshuvah which culminates with the forgiveness of Yom Kippur, we arrive at Sukkos, which we refer to in our prayers as “zman simchaseinu — the time of our rejoicing.” The happiness comes from a feeling that our teshuvah was accepted at the highest level, as demonstrated by our ability to serve Hashem during these eight days with an unprecedented number of unique mitzvos, such as dwelling in the sukkah and taking the four species.

With this explanation, we may now understand that the Mishnah in Sukkah (2:9) teaches that when one is forced to leave his sukkah due to the rain, he should view himself as a servant who attempted to pour a glass for his master, only to have it spilled back in his face. As a person should always be sad when his efforts to perform a mitzvah are unsuccessful, why do Chazal emphasize this point specifically in regard to being evicted from the sukkah?

Now that we understand that the joy of Sukkos emanates from a feeling that our repentance has been accepted to the point that we are able to once again serve Hashem with a myriad of additional mitzvos, it is obvious that a Divine message kicking us out of the sukkah should cause great pain due to its symbolic meaning.

May we all enjoy a year in which we find ourselves in the book of merits and have a Sukkos full of mitzvos, true joy — and dry weather.

Q: Rashi explains (Devarim 32:48) that Parashas Haazinu is one of three places where the expression “b’etzem hayom hazeh — in the middle of the day” is used. It is also used in conjunction with Noach entering the ark and with the Jews leaving Egypt to emphasize that although others claimed they would prevent Noach from entering the ark and the Jews from leaving Egypt, Hashem commanded them to do so “in broad daylight” to prove that nobody can thwart His will.

When the Jews heard of Moshe’s impending death, they claimed they would not permit him to die. Hashem commanded him to ascend the mountain and die in the middle of the day to prove that they were unable to stop Him.

How did the Jews think they could prevent him from dying, something which was beyond their control??

A: The Brisker Rav, zt”l, and Harav Dovid Povarsky, zt”l, note that Hashem commanded Moshe (Devarim 32:50) to ascend the mountain and die there. Because it was decreed that Moshe must die on the mountain, the Jews could have prevented him from ascending and therefore spared him from death. This answer is supported by the Midrash Lekach Tov.

It is reported that Harav Chaim Shmuelevitz, zt”l, rejected this answer as too technical, instead explaining that the tremendous gratitude they felt toward Moshe would have inspired them to pray to such an extent that it would have annulled the decree and literally been impossible to kill him. This answer is also given by the Chiddushei Harim and is supported by the Yalkut Shimoni.


Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com.