Mrs. Smiles - Succos: Cycle of Teshuva 5771/2010

Tishrei is replete with yomim tovim. We start with Rosh Hashanah, continue with Yom Kippur, round out the month with Sukkos and finish with Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah. The connection between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, especially when linked through the aseret yemei teshuvah, the Ten Days of Repentance, is obvious. But the question arises, is Sukkos and Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah also part of this cycle?

Many commentators, including the Tiferes Shlomo, reinterpret the command to dwell in the sukkah for seven days by applying different vocalization to the word teishvu. By reading it toshuvu, the meaning changes from you will dwell in sukkos to you will do teshuvah in sukkos. With this simple reinterpretation, it becomes obvious that Sukkos is equally part of the atonement and return process actually begun in the month of Elul and reaching its climax on Yom Kippur. However, if we have been cleansed of all our sins on Yom Kippur, what teshuvah are we expected to do on Succos?

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are called the Yomim Noraim, the days of fear and awe, because our teshuvah on those days is in fact a repentance and return based on yirah, fear and awe of Hakodosh Boruch Hu. While this repentance will indeed erase our transgressions, there is still a higher level of return, return based on ahavah, on love. It is this return that will not only erase our sins but transform these former transgressions into meritorious acts. And herein lies the connection between Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur and Sukkos.

To observe the mitzvah of dwelling in the succah correctly, we are supposed to reflect on two related ideas. First, we must remember that when our people were redeemed from Egypt, we lived in temporary huts as we traveled through the desert towards the Promised Land for forty years. But we must also remember that during these forty years Hashem protected us from all dangers by surrounding us with the clouds of Glory, just as we are surrounded by the walls of the sukkah. These two remembrances form the basis of Teshuvah.

All sin, explains Rav Lugassi in Mishpat leElokei Yaakov, stems from a lack of emunah, of faith in the omnipresence of the Ribbono shel olam. If we truly felt His presence, we would be more circumspect in all mitzvoth that involve our relationship with Him. If we sense Him beside us, how could our mind wander as we recited our prayers? How could we forget to thank Him for the food we eat; how could we purposely violate the Sabbath? If we understand that He is the ultimate cause of all that we have in our life, both what we consider good and what we consider bad, how could we retaliate against someone who may have hurt us when it is Hashem Who has been wielding the stick? All our relationships with our fellow men become more positive as we consider each to be sent into our lives as an emissary of Hakodosh Boruch Hu for our personal benefit and education. We can neither speak against them nor act against them.

This indeed is the purpose of Sukkos. We are meant to dwell in the sukkah for seven days. Eating, sleeping, learning Torah, reading the newspaper, and most of the other great and small things of life should be done in the sukkah. Certainly, if one is celebrating a milestone such as a son’s bris, it should take place in the sukkah. (Certainly, we refer to those climates where these observances are at least minimally possible.) This is the optimal observance of the festival, for we are meant to surround ourselves with His Presence for these seven days just as we were surrounded by His Presence in the desert. We must recognize that just as we were provided with shelter and sustenance in the desert, so too does our shelter and daily sustenance come from Him today, albeit we are in the backyard of our brick and mortar home. That a tornado does not destroy our home is a manifestation of God’s protection. The fact that water comes from the spigot when we are thirsty is a manifestation of His benevolence.

The goal of Sukkos is to experience Hashem’s Presence and internalize that feeling so that it becomes part of our entire being. On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, explains Rav Lugassi, we have atoned for individual sins. We have focused on the branches of the tree, but we have not internalized the concept into a complete gestalt for our lives. We need to get to the root of our spiritual life. Succos works on that entire mechanism. When we sit in the sukkah, our entire bodies are involved, when we say our blessings in the sukkah, our mouth is involved, we engage our mind when we study or do homework in the sukkah, and so on.

Even the minimal physical parameters necessary for a kosher sukkah are meant to demonstrate the love between Hakodosh Boruch Hu and ourselves. The sukkah must have at least two full walls and one half wall. One can imagine this configuration anthropomorphically as a hug, two full arms encircling another while a third is opposite. In the Sukkah, Hashem is embracing us, so to speak, and we feel as protected as an infant in his Snugli.

Rabbi Pincus analyzes the essence of these festivals more closely. He posits that the essence of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur lies in an understanding of the numerical system based on ten. After all, Rosh Hashanah marks the “birthday of the world”, a world created with ten individual utterances, each utterance building upon the previous one until the world was complete. The world is sustained through observance of the Torah and the Ten Commandments, and there are Ten Days of Repentance. In the numerical system of 10, each number is an individual unit; each can be worked on separately and then added together, much as we work on the individual sins and character traits in the vidui, the confession of the Yom Kippur liturgy.

But Sukkos, continues Rabbi Pincus, is represented by the number seven. Seven is a holistic number. Seven represents completion. So Sukkos is celebrated for seven days, in contras to the ten Days of Awe. The four species which we hold together as one unit comprise seven individual pieces, one lulav, one etrog, three hadassim and two aravos. Each day of Sukkos we encircle the bimah in shul once, culminating in seven hakafot on Hoshanah Rabbah, the seventh day. When we shake the four species, we are one at the center and shake them in each of the six directions. There are seven aushpizin, guests that we invite into our sukkah. While we seem to invite one specific patriarch or leader into the sukkah each night, we ask that all the others accompany him.

Rabbi Pincus continues to contrast Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur with Sukkos. He explains that we start with a frantic search for Hakodosh Boruch Hu. We search all the crevices of our lives in terror, lest we have actually lost Him. But by the end of Neilah on Yom Kippur we have found Him. We declare Him to be our Father, our King, our God. We declare that we will not lose Him again. Then Sukkos comes, and we cling to Him. We do not want to leave Him and His Presence in the sukkah. Indeed, in earlier times, wherever one went on Sukkos, one took his lulav with him, whether he just left his house or went to visit the sick. We wanted a visible manifestations of our clinging to Hashem. We do not want to alienate Him again, God forbid, by falling prey to the wiles of the yetzer hora and sinning again.

So Hashem has given us the sukkah to help us remain steadfast. He prepares the giants of our people to be our guests to bolster us in our resolve and show His love for us. He wants us to actualize the Sovereignty, Remembrances and Shofar blasts of the Rosh Hashanah liturgy. When we sit in the sukkah, we are under the direct providence and protection of Hashem Who will bolster us in our battle against the yetzer hora. The Shvilei Pinchas elaborates on this idea. The sukkah, he espouses, symbolically encompasses the light Hashem uses to surround the angels who are immune to the wiles of the yetzer hora. The Shvilei Pinchas further points out that the letters of sukkah in Hebrew represent Somech Vozer Kol Hanoflim, He supports and helps all who have fallen. When we dwell in the sukkah, the Shvilei Pinchas suggests, Hashem Himself is keeping us from sin, for we are showing our faith and devotion to Him, even if we have fallen and sinned in the past.

It is on the first day of Sukkos that the new cycle for sins begins after being purified by Yom Kippur. After all, immediately after Yom Kippur we are involved in the mitzvoth of building the sukkah and buying our lulav, so the yetzer hora has no opportunity to entice us. But on Sukkos, we begin relaxing in the sukkah. The evil inclination wants to trip us up. And if we sin, he is not satisfied with that. He wants us to feel demoralized and depressed, to believe that since we have sinned all is lost. Therefore, Hashem says, begin the new cycle with the mitzvoth involved in Sukkos. Surround yourself with God’s Presence, move the four species in every direction, but always bring them back to your heart. Circle the bimah once each day and seven times on the seventh day and, like the walls of Jericho for Joshua, the walls that separate Bnei Yisroel from Hashem will come down. While Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are about the past, Sukkos is about the future and the hope that our relationship with Hakodosh Boruch Hu will remain intimate.

On Shemini Atzeret Hashem reciprocates. “Your leaving is difficult for Me,” He says, “Stay one more day.” We embrace each other, Hashem and His people, by holding the Torah close and dancing. We have resolved to be like the esrog, to be alive and vibrant all year round in His service. We have taken the lesson of Sukkos,  we have bonded with Hakodosh Boruch Hu  and we have returned to Him not only through fear, but through love.


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