…והיית אך שמח
…and you shall be only joyous
There’s an interesting Midrash that compares the time between Pesach and Shavuos, and the time between Sukkos and Shemini Atzeres. The time between Pesach and Shavuos is fifty days, whereas there is no break between Sukkos and Shemini Atzeres. Why is this so? The Midrash answers with a parable. This is similar to a king with many kids. Some are married and live far away, and some are married and live close by. When those who live close by come to visit, when came time to depart the King would let them go without difficulty, since anyways they live close by. However, those who live far away, when they would visit and it came time to leave, the King would hold them back. He would plead with them to stay one more day, due to the distance between them.
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Adorned Sukkah; beautified Temple
זה קלי ואנוהו התנאה לפניו במצות עשה לפניו סוכה נאה ולולב נאה ושופר נאה צצית נאה ספר תורה נאה
This is my G-d ve’anvehu: Become beautified before Him in mitzvos: Make before Him a nice Sukkah, nice Lulav, a nice Shofar, nice tzitzis, a nice sefer Torah
An interesting question is brought in the name of the Avnei Nezer. We find special emphasis given to decorating our Sukkas. There’s a category in halacha known as noi sukkah, which discusses the status of the decorations of the Sukkah. Stores try their utmost to stock up on all the greatest posters and streamers and sparkly glitter, and the like. Presumably, this is in order to beautify the mitzvah. We do find such a concept, of beautifying our mitzvos. However, as the principle sounds, this applies to all mitzvos, not just decorating our Sukkah. Why then is there this extra emphasis, specifically with regards to the mitzvah of Sukkah?
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Building a sukkah
ולקחתם לכם ביום הראשון פרי עץ הדר כפת תמרים וענף עץ-עבת וערבי-נחל ושמחתם לפני יקוק אלקיכם שבעת ימים: בסכת תשבו שבעת ימים כל-האזרח בישראל ישבו בסכת
You shall take on the first day an esrog fruit, palm fronds (a lulav), myrtle branches, and willow branches, and you shall rejoice before Hashem your G-d for seven days. You shall dwell in sukkos for seven days. Every citizen of Israel shall dwell in sukkos
Sukkos is known as Zman Simchaseinu, the time of our rejoicing. The days are accentuated with their unique mitzvos, that of taking the four species and dwelling in the sukkah. The Torah introduces these mitzvos in this precise order, first the four species, then dwelling in the sukkah. While the reason for this requires its own study, what’s fascinating is the Sages, when they chose the structure of their teachings on the festival, chose to first discuss the laws of the sukkah, and only then the laws of the four species. Why did the Sages switch the order from that in the Torah?
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Love independent of deed
ביום שביעי שהוא הושענא רבה נוהגים להרבות במזמורים כמו ביום טוב וכו’ ונוטלים ערבה ביום זה מלבד ערבה שבלולב
On the seventh day [of Sukkos], which is called Hoshana Rabbah, the custom is to increase in Psalms, like we do on a Yom Tov…and we take a willow branch on this day, besides the willow found in the four species
The last day of Sukkos is one of the strangest days of prayer on the calendar. It is known as Hoshana Rabbah. On the one hand, it’s still Sukkos, so we shake the four species. Like the other days of Chol HaMoed, it’s like a weekday in that some creative work is permitted, and some even wear tefillin. However, it’s not like the other “weekdays” of Sukkos. We add extra prayers, those that are usually only said on Shabbos and Yom Tov. Tunes from the High Holidays are used. A lot of literature has been written on Hoshana Rabbah, likening it to Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.
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The fallen booth
הרחמן הוא יקים לנו את סוכת דוד הנופלת
May the Merciful One raise up for us the fallen sukkah of King David
Sukkos is a time for rejoicing. It’s one of the happiest festivals of the year. We cite Hallel. We encircle the bima with our Lulav and Esrog. We recite extra prayers. One such extra prayer is found at the end of Birkas HaMazon. In the prayer, we ask Hashem to restore the fallen sukkah of King David. This prayer is based off of a verse in Amos, which says that on that day, presumably when the Moshiach shall appear, Hashem will raise up the fallen sukkah of King David. I understand we mention this prayer this time of year because it says the word sukkah, but what is it referring to? What sukkah of King David was there, and how did it fall? What does it mean that we ask Hashem to raise it up again?
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בקש קהלת למצא דברי-חפץ וכתוב ישר דברי אמת
Koheles sought to find desired sayings, and genuine recorded words of truth
The custom on Sukkos is to read from the book of Koheles, otherwise known as Ecclesiastes. Various reasons are provided for this. One is that the festival of Sukkos is one of joy, and Ecclesiastes cautions us about the dangers of unbridled joy. The work is attributed to King Shlomo. Indeed, the classical understanding is the protagonist Koheles is none other than King Shlomo himself. Regarding one verse, Chazal share a cryptic interpretation. Koheles, namely King Shlomo, desired to be like Moshe. However, a Heavenly voice proclaimed “וכתוב ישר דברי אמת”, literally: it is written straight, words of truth. What does this teaching mean?
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The festival of Chanukkos
והדליקו נרות בחצרות קדשך, וקבעו שמונת ימי חנכה אלו, להודות לשמך הגדול
They lit [the Menorah] lights in Your holy courtyards, and established these eight days of Chanukah, to give thanks to Your great name
The eight-day festival of Chanukah is commonly understood to be in commemoration of the miracle of the Menorah. The Greeks contaminated all the ritual oil which was to be used to fuel the Menorah in the Holy Temple. After their defeat, only one small jar of oil was found. It was enough to light the Menorah for one night. After lighting the Menorah, it miraculously stayed lit for eight days, enough time to finish making more oil. Thus, we celebrate eight days of Chanukah. However, what isn’t commonly known is another version of what inspired this eight-day festival.
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Two types of sukkos
למען ידעו דרתיכם כי בסֻכות הושבתי את-בני ישראל בהוציאי אותם מארץ מצרים אני יקוק אלקיכם
In order that your generations shall know that I placed the Jewish people in sukkos, when I took them out of the land of Egypt; I am Hashem your G-d
The verse explaining the purpose of dwelling in sukkos has an anomaly. The word סֻכות is written in full, instead of more the concise סֻכֹת, as it’s spelled when the Torah actually commands us to dwell in them. Why is this so? This is to hint to the two opinions as to which kind of sukkos we are meant to recall when we dwell in our personal sukkos. One opinion focuses on the fact that the Jews were surrounded by Hashem’s Clouds of Glory during their travels in the wilderness. We are to recall this (temporary) Divine shelter by dwelling in our temporary sukkos. The other opinion is that the Jews themselves dwelled in temporary huts called sukkos, during their battles in the land of Sichon and Og . If the word סכת was written concisely, it would look like it’s referring to one sukkah. Written out in full refers to multiple sukkos, and thus alludes to these two opinions.
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The fruit that dwells on its tree from year to year
כתפוח בעצי היער כן דודי בין הבנים וגו’
Like a tapuach in the trees of the forest, so too is my beloved amongst the children…
The gemarra asks: why does the verse liken the Jewish people to a tapuach tree? The answer is, to teach us that just like a tapuach tree has its fruit grow before its leaves, so too the Jewish people gave precedence to “we will do” over “we will listen”. While this is a nice, short, lesson, at first glance there are a couple of issues. First, the word tapuach usually refers to an apple. An apple tree does not have its fruit grow before its leaves. Like most fruit trees, the leaves come first. Consequently, some explain that the tapuach here is referring to an esrog. We see this from the verse וריח אפך כתפוחים, the scent of your breath is like tapuchim. The Aramaic translation tells us that its referring to an esrog. We see from here then that a tapuach can also refer to an esrog. This works well because the esrog tree in fact retains its fruit from year to year. When last year’s leaves fall off, new ones take their place. Thus, arriving after the fruit. However, the second question is harder to resolve. This verse, which Chazal say likens the Jewish people to an esrog, is really referring to Hashem! Why do they say it is referring to the Jewish people?
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The collective sukkah
בסוכות תשבו שבעת ימים כל-האזרח בישראל ישבו בסכת
You shall dwell in sukkos for seven days; every citizen in Israel will dwell in sukkos
Chazal learn from this verse that, hypothetically speaking, the entire Jewish people can fulfill the mitzvah of dwelling in a sukkah using one sukkah for everybody. Each person would use it, one after the other. However, how can this be? There is an obligation to turn one’s sukkah into their permanent dwelling. We are supposed to spend day and night there. This isn’t possible to accomplish if everyone had to share one sukkah! Another question: why does the verse start in second person, תשבו, and end in third person, ישבו? It starts with you shall dwell, and ends they will dwell.
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