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What is Sukkot?



Four Kinds


Thoughts & Essays

Q & A

Intermediate Days

Hoshana Rabba

Simchat Torah

 The Voice of the Herald Intermediate Days

Q & A

"On the fifteenth day of this seventh month is the festival of Sukkot... on the first day is a holy convocation, you shall not do any laborious work.... But on the fifteenth day of the seventh month... you shall celebrate G-d's festival... The first day is a rest day... You shall take for yourselves on the first day the fruit of an etrog tree...." (23:34-35,39-40)
  1. Why is the mitzvah of celebrating Sukkot repeated twice?
  2. Why in the first instance does it say "lachodesh hashevi'i hazeh" while in the second the word "hazeh" is omitted?
  3. Why only in the second case is there mention of the taking of the four species?
  4. Why in the first does it say "You shall not do any laborious work" whereas in the second it simply says "Shabbaton" - "a rest day"?
From the festival of Pesach one can determine on which day of the week all the festivals of that year will take place. This rule is known as ."A"Kuf"

"Alef" - the day of the week when the first day of Pesach falls will be "Suf" - the same day as Tisha Be'Av.

"Beis" - the second day of Pesach will be "Shin" - the same day of the week as Shavuot.

"Gimel" - the third day of Pesach will be "Reish" - Rosh Hashanah.

"Daled" - the fourth day of Pesach will be "Kuf" - the day of Kriat haTorah - Simchat Torah - when we complete and start anew the reading of the Torah.

According to the Gemara (Shabbat 87b) the Jews left Egypt on Thursday. Consequently, since the first Pesach was celebrated on Thursday, the following Rosh Hashanah was on a Shabbat, and Sukkot, which is always two weeks later, was also on Shabbat. Thus, regarding the current celebration of Sukkot, the Torah says the fifteenth of this ("hazeh") seventh month shall be Sukkot. Since it occurs on Shabbat, the Torah instructs that "any laborious work shall not be done." When Sukkot falls on Shabbat, the four species are not taken on that day and therefore there is no mention of the lulav and etrog.

The second discussion of Sukkot in the parshah refers to the coming years and generations, and thus "hazeh" - "this" - is omitted. Since Sukkot is not necessarily on Shabbat, the commandment of taking the four species is mentioned. It is only referred to as a day of rest but not one in which any laborious work is forbidden because on Yom Tov one is permitted to do work connected with the preparation of food necessary for the festival.

"You shall take for yourselves on the first day the fruit of a etrog tree, the branches of date palms, twigs of myrtles and brook willows." (23:40)
Since it says "ulekachtem" - "and you shall take" - the halacha is that if one has before him the four species but does not take them in his hand, he does not fulfill the mitzvah (see Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 651). Why does the Torah insist that they be taken in one's hand?
According to the Midrash Rabbah (30:14) the four species represent different parts of the human body. The etrog resembles a heart, the lulav (palm branch) represents the spine, the hadas (myrtle) has small leaves which are like eyes, and the arava (willow) resembles the lips.

With the mitzvah of "ulekachtem" - "you shall take" - the Torah is conveying a message of cardinal importance: that these four major body parts must be taken in hand - i.e. be under man's control.

The heart sometimes desires the undesirable. Man must learn to take hold of his heart and control it. At all times there must be mo'ach shalit al haleiv - the brain ruling over the desires of the heart (Zohar, Vayikra 224a).

According to halacha, the lulav must be firm and upright. It should not be loose, curved, or bending to all sides. The spine provides major support for body and the spinal cord controls it. A weak spine can, G-d forbid, cause a person to be paralyzed or of bent stature. Taking the lulav in hand means that a Jew must be firm in his convictions, walk upright, and be proud of the fact that he is a member of the Jewish people and Torah observant. He must never bend - compromise in his Torah observance.

The hadas leaves - resembling eyes - must grow upright on their stems. This teaches that a Jew must always look up with optimism to G-d in Heaven and not look down upon other people.

Another message implied by the halacha requiring that the hadas be taken in the hand is that one must learn to control his eyes and also to be happy with one's lot and not look enviously on other people's good fortune.

The leaves of the arava must be smooth and not have sharp serrated edges. The mitzvah of taking it into the hands accentuates that one must control his lips. In particular, one should be careful not to make cutting remarks; rather one should speak words of Torah and speak well of a fellow Jew.

"You shall take for yourself on the first day the fruit of an etrog tree, the branches of date palms, twigs of myrtles, and brook willows." (23:40)
The Midrash Rabbah (30:16) says that in merit of performing the mitzvah of taking the four species on the first day, Hashem says that "I will be the first to reveal Myself to you and take revenge for you from the first - Eisav - of whom it is written 'and the first [child] came out red'(Bereishit 25:25), and build for you the first - the Beit Hamikdash - of which it is written 'A glorious throne on high from the first, the place of our Sanctuary' (Jeremiah 17:12), and bring for you the first - King Mashiach, of whom it is written 'The first shall say to Tzion' (Isaiah 41:27). Why will the fulfillment of the mitzvah of taking the four species merit us Mashiach?
According to the Midrash (30:12), the four species represent four different categories of the Jewish people. The etrog, which has an aroma and is edible, represents the tzaddik, who studies Torah and performs mitzvot. The lulav, which only has taste but no aroma, represents the one who is mostly involved in Torah study. The myrtle, which has aroma but no taste, represents the Jew who is involved in doing good deeds but who does not have the capability to study Torah. The willow, which has neither taste nor aroma, represents the Jew who unfortunately lacks both Torah and mitzvot.

The Beit Hamikdash was destroyed because of sinat chinam - causeless hatred and rivalry between the Jewish people (Yoma 9b). Taking the four species together symbolically expresses ahavat Yisrael - love of a fellow Jew. Hashem is telling the Jewish people that by fulfilling the mitzvah of taking the four species - excelling in ahavat Yisrael - we will merit His taking revenge on our enemies, and we will merit the rebuilding of the Beit Hamikdash and the coming of Mashiach.

"And you shall take for yourself on the first day the fruit of the etrog tree." (23:40)
The Midrash Tanchuma (21) says that the Torah uses the word "harishon" because this day is "rishon lecheshbon avonot" - "the first in the accounting of sins." Why are the days before Sukkot free of sin?
On the very day Hashem created man, He placed him together with Chava in Gan Eden and instructed them not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. Later that same day, they disobeyed and enjoyed the fruit of the tree, thereby committing the first sin.

There is an opinion in Midrash Rabbah (Bereishit 20:8) that the Tree of Knowledge was an etrog tree. Hence, the Midrash is saying, "You should take 'bayom harishon' - 'on the first day' - an etrog, the fruit which was the first with which man ever sinned."

"You shall take for yourselves on the first day the fruit of an etrog tree [lit. a beautiful tree]." (23:40)
What is the beauty of the etrog tree?
Man is compared to a tree of the field (Devarim 20:19). Many lessons are learned from the trees to guide man in his development.

The uniqueness of the etrog is that on the bottom it has an ukatz - the stem by which it is connected to the tree - and on the top grows a pitom - stem - topped with a shoshanta - rosette blossom. Should one of these fall off, the etrog is no longer considered a beauty.

The lesson of the etrog tree is that a beautiful person is one who is connected with the past and who also has accomplishments of his own. A descendant of a fine family, who continues the family tradition, and who does not rest contented with the family's prior glories and goes forth to blossom on his own, is indeed a hadar - a very beautiful person.

"You shall take for yourselves on the first day the fruit of a etrog tree, the branches of date palms, twigs of myrtles and brook willows." (23:40)
According to the Midrash Rabbah (30:12) the different species we take on Sukkot represent various categories of Jews. The willow has neither taste nor aroma and it represents the Jew who neither studies Torah nor does good deeds. Why is the Jew represented by the willow united with the other categories?
Every Jew possesses a spark of G-dliness and should never be rejected. Moreover, continued association with other more observant Jews may have a positive effect on the non-observant Jew.

The Hebrew word for willow, "aravah", has the numerical value of 277, which is equivalent to the numerical value of "zera" - "children." This alludes that even if a father does not alter his ways, he should still be accepted within K'lal Yisrael, so that ultimately when his children grow up, they will possess good "taste" and a beautiful "aroma" (good deeds and Torah study).

"You shall take for yourself...and brook willows." (23:40)
Why is the species which has no taste or aroma representing the Jew who lacks both Torah study and mitzvot, called "arava"?
When Hashem offered us the Torah, each one of us promptly responded, "na'aseh venishma" - "we will perform and we will listen (study)." Grammatically it would have been more appropriate for each person to respond, "a'aseh ve'eshma" - "I will perform and I will listen."

The reason for the plural response is that the Jews were saying not only "Will we perform and listen," but "We will see to it that other Jews do the same." Thus, at the time of the receiving of the Torah, every Jew became "areiv" - a guarantor - for the others. Our sages tell us that "Kal Yisrael areivim zeh lazeh" - "All Jews are guarantors and responsible one for another (Shevuot 39a).

The word "arava" is derived from the root word "arov" and thus implies the concept of responsibility and guarantee. Thus, the name "arava" is an explanation and reminder that the "arava" Jew is included because we are guarantors for him. We are obligated, ultimately, to assure that every member of the Jewish people is fully observant.

"You shall take for yourself on the first day the fruit of a etrog tree, the branches of date palms, twigs of myrtles, and brook willows; and you shall rejoice before G-d, your G-d, for a seven day period." (23:40)
What is the connection between the four species and rejoicing?
Regarding rejoicing with the four species, the Midrash Rabbah (30:2) offers a parable: If two people have come before a judge, and we do not know who has been victorious, if one of them takes a palm branch in his hand, we know that he is the victor. So it is with B'nei Yisrael and the nations of the world: The latter come and bring accusations before Hashem on Rosh Hashanah and we do not know who has won. Since the B'nei Yisrael go forth from the presence of Hashem bearing their palm- ranches and their etrogim, we know that they are victorious.

How does taking the four species prove that "we won"?

The Midrash Rabbah (30:12) explains that the four species represent the four different categories of Jews, from the tzaddik who studies Torah and performs good deeds to the Jew who is totally on the other extreme. The unification of the four species is an allusion that all Jews, regardless of their spiritual level or quality, should be strongly united together. In unity there is strength and therefore victory.

The power of peace and unity is so great that even when the Jewish people sin, G-d forbid, if unity prevails, Hashem does not rebuke or punish them (see Bereishit Rabbah 38:6). Thus, when Jews are united together with no rivalry or animosity between them, Hashem takes pleasure in them and they experience the ultimate joy.

"But on the fifteenth day of the seventh month when you gather in the crop of the land, you shall celebrate G-d's festival for a seven day period. You should dwell in booths seven days." (23:42)
Why when we gather in the harvest of the land are we commanded to dwell in sukkot?
The sukkah is referred to as a dirat arai - temporary dwelling place - and it has a roof through which one can see the stars. A person is required to leave his permanent abode and move into a sukkah to impress upon him that our real security is provided by G-d in heaven. Without Him, our strong "fortresses" with their bars and gates are to no avail.

One who brings home the produce of his land may become arrogant and think that he is wealthy, able to sustain himself, and no longer dependent on Hashem. Through the mitzvah of sukkah such thoughts are dispelled. The sukkah reminds the individual that his affluence and success are only temporary and that he is entirely dependent on the blessing of Hashem.

"You shall dwell in booths for seven days...So that your generations will know that I caused the Children of Israel to dwell in booths when I took them out of the land of Egypt." (23:39,42-43)
Why is the festival of Sukkot connected to both the time of crop ingathering and the Jews' dwelling in sukkot during their desert sojourn?
The message of the sukkah is two-fold: When the Jews lived in Eretz Yisrael, worked the land, and prospered, there was a danger lest they begin to think that it was their strength and wisdom that earned them their wealth. Consequently, when they gathered their crops and their success brought them into a jubilant spirit, Hashem commanded that they dwell in sukkot to teach them that life on this earth is temporary and that there are no strong "fortresses" that we can build for ourselves. The sukkah is covered with sechach, through which one can look up and see the heavens, alluding that our abodes are temporary and our security is dependent on Hashem in the heaven above.

The trials and tribulations of exile create the danger that the Jews, G-d forbid, will suffer disillusionment. Therefore, Hashem gave the Jewish people the festival of Sukkot, "So that your generations will know that I caused the Children of Israel to dwell in booths when I took them out of the land of Egypt - and just as I protected them then and ultimately brought them to safety, so too, I will be with the Jewish people wherever they will be and ultimately bring them Mashiach and cause them to sit in the sukkah made from the skin of Livyatan." (See Bava Batra 75a).

In view of the above, that Sukkot is celebrated for two reasons and conveys a two-fold message, it is understood why the festival is known as "Chag haSukkot" - plural.

"So that your generations will know that I caused the Children of Israel to dwell in booths when I took them out from the land of Egypt." (23:43)
When the Jews were in the desert they ate manna from heaven and drank water from a well which accompanied them in their travels. Why do we celebrate a festival to commemorate the Clouds of Glory and not for the manna or the well?
Hashem took the Jewish people out of Egypt with the intent of bringing them to Eretz Yisrael. Their itinerary included traveling through the desert for 40 years. Since Hashem presented the itinerary and chose the desert route, it was incumbent upon Him to provide the Jewish people with food and water, which are otherwise unavailable in the desert. To smooth the roads and protect them from the scorching desert, He had to provide the clouds which enveloped them.

However, in addition, the Jewish people were also surrounded with Ananei Hakavod - Clouds of Glory. These were intended to show His love for His chosen people and not something strictly necessary. Thus, so that our generations appreciate the uniqueness of the Clouds of Glory (see Rashi), we commemorate them through celebrating the festival of Sukkot.

"So that your generations will know that I caused the Children of Israel to dwell in booths when I took them out of the land of Egypt." (23:43)
The word "ki" is superfluous. It could have said "shebasukkot" - "that in sukkot"?
According to the halacha (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 633:1,8), the walls of a sukkah may not be higher than twenty amot (cubits - appox. 16 ft.) so that the sechach will be visible to the eye. A sukkah must also be a minimum of ten tefachim (handbreadths) high (approx. 9 1/2 inches).

The word "ki" is a remez - hint - to these two halachot. The numerical value of the "chaf" is twenty, alluding to the height of a sukkah, which cannot be above twenty amot, and the numerical value of "yud" is ten, which alludes to the minimum height of ten tefachim.

The Ba'alei Mesorah indicate two more pesukim where the word "ki" seems superfluous. One is "vayomru lo ki barechov nalin" - "And they said, 'No, rather we will spend the night in the alley " (Bereishit 19:2), and the other, "Ki ner mitzvah" - "For a mitzvah is a candle" (Proverbs 6:23).

Similar to a sukkah, Chanukah and a mavui - alley - have laws involving the amounts of above twenty amot and less than ten tefachim.

Regarding a mavui, a crossbeam spanning the entrance to a mavui in order to make it a domain in which it is permissible to carry on Shabbat may not be higher than twenty cubits. If from the ground at the entrance to an alley to the top of the wall is less than ten handbreadths, and one places a crossbeam over it, it is invalid to make it a domain in which carrying is permitted on Shabbat. (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 363:26).

If a Chanukah menorah is placed above twenty cubits, it is invalid and it should preferably be less than ten handbreadths above the ground (ibid., 671:6).

That the word "ki" in the pasuk "barechov nalin" - "we will spend the night in the alley" - thus refers to the laws of an alley, and the word "ki" in the pasuk "ner mitzvah" refers to the laws of the candles of Chanukah.

"That in booths I caused the Children of Israel to dwell (sit) when I took them out from the land of Egypt." (23:43)
The Jewish people traveled throughout the entire desert, making 42 stops till they arrived in Eretz Yisrael. In lieu of "ki basukkot hoshavti" - "That in booths I caused to dwell" - it should have said "basukkot holachti" - "In booths I led"?
The sukkot in the pasuk refers to the Clouds of Glory, which surrounded the Jewish people throughout their journey in the desert en route to Eretz Yisrael. In reality, the Jews never traveled in the conventional sense: The encompassing Clouds of Glory transported them from one stop to the other while they were sitting in their places.
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