What exactly is the great joy of Sukkos? What differentiates it from all the other Yomim Tovim? Let us explore five approaches to these questions and what we can derive for our own avodah on these wonderful uplifting days.
Rav Shmuel Rozovsky zt”l, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Ponovezh, suggested that the special simcha of Sukkos stems from the achdus – unity – that permeates every aspect of the Yom Tov. The Medrash (Vayikra Rabbah 30) teaches that the Four Species that are bound together represent the unity of all Jews, regardless of their level of religious achievement. He cites the words of Shlomo Hamelech (Mishlei 18:1) that “one who removes to court lust will be exposed in every Torah conclave.” Rabbeinu Yonah explains this to mean that “one who wishes to follow his desires will alienate himself from society and he will end up having no real friends at all. This is because every person has his own inclinations and passions, causing him to be isolated from others who do not share his self-generated needs” (Shaarei Teshuvah 1).
Rav Rozovsky concludes that “without unity, there can be no joy, and therefore Sukkos, which represents total unity, attains the status of Zeman Simchaseinu.”
We may add that Chazal (Sukkah 43) teach that “all of Klal Yisroel are worthy of dwelling in one sukkah. Although there are many interpretations of this beautiful metaphor, it is clearly a statement of our achdus.
The Sheim MiShmuel points out that at first one might conclude that the joy of Sukkos flows directly from the fact that on Yom Kippur we have been forgiven for our sins and begin fresh and clean. However, he cites various proofs that this is not the exclusive source of our Sukkos joy. He notes that since our neshamah hails from above, where there is only joy (Divrei Hayomim I 16:27), we should actually be happy all the time. However, since the body, which comes from the earth, is subject to dejection and discouragement, we, who are a composite of both, oscillate between joy and sadness. However, in the magical days immediately after Yom Kippur, when we have been purified from our sins and emerged (Vayikra Rabbah 30:3) successfully from judgment, we can be fully joyous once again.
The Brisker Rov zt”l was once contemplating a group of children happily playing together. He turned to those who were accompanying him, constantly learning from his sichas chulin, and asked, “Do you know why children are often so happy, with contentment written all over their faces?” He answered his own question with an astounding insight. “All of creation is full of joy. Young children are still close to their own creation, so they still radiate the primeval joy of the universe itself” (Rav Moshe Mordechai Schulsinger zt”l, Peninei Maran Hagriz).
The Rov’s source may have been, in part, the posuk of “yismach Hashem bemaasov – let Hashem rejoice in His works,” as explained over the centuries (Tehillim 104:31 and see Ohr Gedalyahu, Shemos, page 45, Rav Sroya Deblitzky zt”l, Lenefesh Sidreshenu, Rosh Hashanah, page 105).
Along similar lines to the Sheim MiShmuel, the Brisker Rov teaches us that the closer we are to the perfection Hashem originally bestowed upon His world, the greater is our joy. The days following Yom Kippur, when we have been absolved of our sins and returned, at least in part, to our pristine condition, appropriately lead into Zeman Simchaseinu.
The Brisker Rov’s son, Rav Berel Soloveitchik zt”l, added an important component to his father’s insight, with which the Rov agreed and appended his own conclusion. Rav Berel quoted the Rambam (Hilchos Lulav 8:12) about the Simchas Bais Hashoeivah on Sukkos in the Bais Hamikdosh: “The challil played, there was dancing and clapping…each according to his own abilities. There is a mitzvah to increase these acts of joy.” Asked Rav Berel: Why does Sukkos alone include these manifestations of simcha? He answers that the Rambam (Hilchos Yom Tov 6:17) rules that “one is obligated to be happy and of cheerful heart.” This means, he explains, that “on most Yomim Tovim the mandate is to be happy internally. However, concerning Sukkos, the Torah states, ‘You shall be joyous before Hashem, your G-d.’ This implies that there must be demonstrative evidence of that joy, such as dancing. For this reason, the Rambam concludes with Dovid Hamelech’s outward acts of jumping and dancing for joy, since this is the requirement of Sukkos.
When the Brisker Rov heard his son’s interpretation, he commented that “now we can understand why the Vilna Gaon on Simchas Torah ‘walked before the Torah glowing with holiness, clapping his hands and dancing with all his might.’ However, when the Torah was returned to its aron, he reverted to the regular level for Yom Tov joy.” The Rov explained that “when the Torah is out of the aron kodesh, the phenomenon of lifnei Hashem reigns and it requires an outward response. However, when the Torah has returned to its place, one can contain the joy internally.” This exchange may be used to understand why the culmination of all of Sukkos is the Simchas Torah dancing and singing.
My rebbi, Rav Yitzchok Hutner zt”l (Pachad Yitzchok, Sukkos 9:7) derives from Rabbeinu Yonah (Shaarei Teshuvah 4:8) that simcha is an integral part of the teshuvah process. Echoing the words of the Brisker Rov, he notes that Rabbeinu Yonah writes that “the baal teshuvah must demonstrate his joy when the time of his forgiveness arrives.” Rav Hutner notes with great emphasis that the ultimate choice (atah vechartanu) of Klal Yisroel was done through the teshuvah process. This is the powerful simcha of Sukkos, that it connects the repentance of every Jew to the communal and national teshuvah of Klal Yisroel after the sin of the Eigel and our complete reacceptance into our Creator’s good graces.
Furthermore, he explained (Maamorei Pachad Yitzchok 99 and 130:14) that only on Sukkos do we find in the Bais Hamikdosh that there were separate songs for those who had always been tzaddikim and the baalei teshuvah (Sukkah 53). In truth, he taught us, each group has some advantage over the other and engages in “righteous but unbegrudging envy.” Not only that, but each of us, concludes Rav Hutner, are sometimes tzaddikim and at others baalei teshuvah.
We may now join some of the strains of each of these five approaches. The Sukkos achdus of which Rav Shmuel Rozovsky speaks so eloquently is perfectly in tune with Rav Hutner’s portrait of the baal teshuvah singing together with the tzaddik from birth. They retain their individuality even as they sing different songs, but they are in harmony with each other because we all have something of each of them inside ourselves. Thus, the Gemara which describes their music depicts a symphony, not the notes of individuals. The Simchas Bais Hashoeivah of Chazal reflects the dialectic between body and soul described by the Sochatchover Rebbe in his Sheim MiShmuel. The Brisker Rov beautifully relates to the natural innocent joy of children connecting to creation itself, while Rabbeinu Yonah understands each one of us as being transported back to a more pristine time in our private and national lives. The Vilna Gaon, as explained by Rav Berel, danced with abandon on Sukkos because the halacha mandates that being lifnei Hashem requires an outward as well as an inner response. Thus, we merge the halachic requirements with both our emotional connection to Sukkos and its evocation of all of Jewish history.
As we approach the beautiful Yom Tov of Sukkos, let us try to remember that not only are we one people, but we each share and exchange roles more often than we think. Perhaps that is why when we join hands on Sukkos and dance together, for just a fleeting moment all the ostensible distinctions disappear. If we have all sinned, we have also all been forgiven. For a shining short time, we can all share one sukkah, sing a song of teshuvah, and reclaim ancient greatness and grandeur.
A gutten Yom Tov to all.