The posuk in Parshas Re’eh (16:13-14) states, “You should celebrate the festival of Sukkos for yourself for seven days… You are to rejoice during your festival.”
The Yom Tov of Sukkos represents a time when Klal Yisroel is meant to rejoice with their newly rejuvenated relationship with Hashem. After the days of judgment of Rosh Hashanah and the kapparah of Yom Kippur, coupled with the sincere teshuvah of Klal Yisroel, the nation leaves the comfort of their homes to dwell under the protective covering reflecting Hashem’s connection with us. The Gemara in Maseches Avodah Zarah (3a) adds an additional dimension to the Yom Tov of Sukkos through the mitzvah of sukkah.
The Gemara explains that at the End of Days, the era when the world will recognize Hashem’s Sovereignty and Hashem will reveal His true connection with the Bnei Yisroel, the nations of the world will come and complain that they, too, have a sincere desire to serve Hashem. In dealing with their complaint, Hashem will offer them the opportunity to indeed serve Him through the mitzvah of sukkah. The Gemara refers to it as a mitzvah kallah in that it is not costly, and through it, the true nature of the feelings of the nations regarding Hashem will be revealed. The nations build their huts and enter, only to have Hashem remove the outer protective layer of the sun and thereby cause them to become oppressively hot. The nations leave their huts and, as they depart, they kick their sukkah.
In one of the main passages that we recite during Selichos, Keil Melech Yosheiv, we refer to Moshe Rabbeinu as an anav, a humble person. We say, “Hashem, You taught us to recite the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy…as You made known to the humble one (Moshe) in ancient times.” Moshe was the humblest of all men, as the posuk in Parshas Behaaloscha (4:3) states, “The man, Moshe, was the humblest, more than any other person on the face of the earth.” The question, though, is why this trait is specifically mentioned in terms of the process through which we are to gain kapparah.
The answer lies in terms of the basic element of teshuvah upon which our kapparah is built.
The essence of teshuvah is basically in terms of our being “shov,” returning to our inner core that is a cheilek Eloka mimaal, a cheilek of Hashem. When we sin, we are unfortunately choosing to live a life not based upon the values of our true core. As a cheilek of Hashem, our neshomah strives to unite us with Him. The goal of teshuvah is that our spiritual dimension should be the kovei’a, the deciding factor in governing our lives. We are not to exist with our own sense of an agenda of Olam Hazeh, but rather to be totally botel and subservient to the cheilek of Hashem that dwells within us. Thus, teshuvah represents that the person is totally allowing his body to be negated and governed by his soul. It is here where the middah of anivus, humility, plays such a vital role in teshuvah.
The anav is totally botel to Hashem. He recognizes that there is no other agenda acceptable in terms of the pursuit of his life but to serve Hashem, the One who gives him his life. Thus, Moshe, as the “anav mikol adam,” relates totally to the process of teshuvah, for teshuvah represents one’s bittul to Hashem, the quality that totally defines the middah of true humility. Only one who truly negates himself to the ratzon of Hashem is fitting to relate to Him. It is this idea that serves as the basis for the Gemara in Maseches Avodah Zarah.
The Gemara says that Hashem will remove the protective outer covering of the sun, and that will cause it to be oppressively hot to the point that the members of the nations will leave their sukkah. The Bnei Yisroel are not required to stay in the sukkah under such conditions, but the difference between the Bnei Yisroel and the nations is how each of them leaves the sukkah. The members of the nations kick the sukkah, while the members of the Bnei Yisroel upsettingly walk away humbled, feeling that they must have done something wrong to be placed in such a situation where they aren’t able to perform this special mitzvah. Both leave, but the nations leave with the anger that they wanted to serve Hashem but were denied, and thus they kick the sukkah. Such a state of mind reflects their total lack of bittul to the ultimate will of Hashem. Basically, they want to serve Hashem on their terms and not to truly fulfill the ratzon of Hashem, which was obviously that they shouldn’t be able to do the mitzvah. The Bnei Yisroel accept the will of Hashem, but wonder why they aren’t spiritually worthy to serve their Creator. Thus, it is the sukkah that will show the ultimate difference between the members of the Bnei Yisroel and the nations of the world.
The avodah of Sukkos is constantly being performed through circles. We walk around the bimah with our lulav and esrog, and on Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah with the Torah. The circle demonstrates that even though we moved away from its beginning, the shoresh, ultimately, by remaining on the circle, it will lead us back to the beginning, the shoresh, once again. This represents the process of teshuvah, where the Bnei Yisroel were together with Hashem and then unfortunately sinned, only to be removed from His Presence. Through our sincere teshuvah, we are once again able to complete the circle and regain our connection with Hashem. The feelings resulting from our sins catapult us to greater recognition of our true feelings – horror at what we did and how it damaged our bond with Hashem. Those feelings are purely a result of our chet, and in that sense, as Chazal reveal, when one does teshuvah out of love of Hashem, his sins become redefined as merits. When it is hot and we dejectedly leave the sukkah, our thoughts are upon our seemingly broken bond with Hashem. Those feelings themselves show that it is just the opposite, that we are firmly connected to Hashem. The nations leave and kick the sukkah, because they are not truly doing the will of Hashem, but rather something that they want, and how and when it should be done.
Klal Yisroel is indeed a unique nation, because the Yomim Tovim reveal that what we experienced in chet doesn’t define us, but represents a mere glitch in the ultimate relationship we have with Hashem. The happiness of the Simchas Bais Hashoeivah, when they drew the water to be poured on the mizbeiach when they brought the Korban Tamid of the morning, represents the swinging of the pendulum after the depths it swayed in despair because of the chet we initially transgressed. Such was the flavor of the true sense of joy that could only be the result of the shleimus afforded by a life of avodas Hashem. For it is in our avodah of Sukkos that one can truly perceive that Klal Yisroel is the unique nation.
Gut Yom Tov.
Rabbi Rapps can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.