By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
The days leading up to Sukkos are filled with lists. This one needs a new suit. That one needs a hat. We need another package of nails and one more two-by-four for the sukkah. From the kitchen, there are calls for two more of flour, eggs, chicken and meat. There is the urge to go out and buy more posters, signs and chains with which to beautify the sukkah we will be living in for a week. Way on top of the list of necessary pursuits are the Dalet Minim, the delightful search for the precious objects that we are commanded to hold on Sukkos.
Finally, it all comes together. The sukkah is up, food is cooking, the Dalet Minim are safely stored, and the magnificent artwork of children and ainiklach are displayed across the festive sukkah walls.
There is, however, one final ingredient necessary to bring everything together and make the holiday of Sukkos complete. Simcha is the super ingredient without which Sukkos is lacking.
Just as the choicest cut of meat will fail to cook even in the most expensive oven unless there is a fire, the various components of Yom Tov won’t accomplish their goals without the simcha that fuels them.
The Rambam at the end of Hilchos Lulav writes, “Hasimcha sheyismach ha’adam ba’asiyas hamitzvah ube’ahavas haKeil shetzivah bohen avodah gedolah hee – It is a great feat to achieve simcha when performing mitzvos…”
The state of simcha we are to attain during the yemei hachag is not reached by simply assuming a superficial smile and repeating clichéd platitudes about being happy and thinking positively. Rather, the simcha arises from the depths of a Jewish heart following the proper performance of the mitzvos hayom and an appreciation of Hashem who commanded us to perform them.
Simcha is present when one has achieved shleimus in what one is doing. When we perform a mitzvah in its entirety, an inner simcha that overwhelms all negativity is achieved. A love of Hashem sweeps over us and we attain the level of simcha that the Rambam describes as being an avodah gedolah.
Rashi writes on the posuk (Devorim 16:15), “Shivas yomim tachog laHashem Elokecha… Vehoyisah ach someiach,” that vehoyisah ach someiach is not a commandment, but rather a guarantee. Apparently, the explanation of Rashi‘s words is that if you follow Hashem’s words and celebrate the chag in an exemplary way, that itself will cause you to be in a state of simcha.
Look at those people who spent so much time going from place to place picking out their Dalet Minim. Watch as they recite Hallel, holding their lulav and esrog aloft. Their faces are radiant. You can see their intense spiritual joy. By watching them, you can see that they have attained the simcha described by the Rambam. Had you been in their sukkah the night before as they made Kiddush, recited the brachos of Leisheiv Basukkah and Shehecheyonu, and consumed the first kezayis [preferably a k’beitzah, see Mishnah Berurah 639, 22] of challah in the sukkah they worked so hard to put together, you would have seen an angelic glow on their faces.
Sukkos is accompanied by a tangible simcha of so many mitzvos. How can you not be happy?
In the sukkah, we sit beTzilah Demehemnusah, in the Shade of Hashem. We perform His mitzvos and await the visit of the biblical guests. We are besimcha. We know that we are on a different plane, with a singular way of life and a set of goals totally unique from anything out there in the world outside of our sukkah.
The strength of the sukkah is not in its walls, but in the people inside it. We feel as safe in our sukkah as if we were in the teivah of Noach, because we look up and recognize that we are in the shadow of G-d’s glory. No harm can befall us as long as we appreciate what we have. A Jew who knows that he sits beTzilah Demehemnusah, performing Hashem’s commandments, cannot help but be happy. In the sukkah of an ehrliche Yid, that joy is almost palpable.
Rav Chaim Brim would recount an anecdote involving an acquaintance of his.
A Yerushalmi bochur learned in Bnei Brak, where he developed a close relationship with the Chazon Ish.
Following the Sukkos bein hazemanim one year, when he returned to Bnei Brak, the Chazon Ish asked him how his Yom Tov had been. Without waiting for an answer, he asked the young bochur, “Were you besimcha?”
The bochur didn’t answer.
The Chazon Ish gently grasped the boy by his shoulders and swayed with him. “How can someone not be joyous,” asked the Chazon Ish, “when he says the words ‘Atoh vechartonu mikol ho’amim?”
One of the great souls of Yerushalayim would offer a special, personal tefillah on Erev Shabbos: “Ribono Shel Olam, You have given me food for Shabbos and clothing for Shabbos. Now I ask You: Please give me Shabbos for Shabbos.”
As we surround ourselves with the objects necessary to properly perform a mitzvah, we must ensure that we do not lose sight of the goal. We have to maintain our emotional involvement and experience the correct inner connection to the mitzvah. As Sukkos arrives, we ask that just as Hashem provided us with a sukkah, Dalet Minim, and many other blessings, so may He give us a taste of Sukkos for Sukkos, complete with genuine satisfaction and simcha.
People who merit being in Eretz Yisroel for Yom Tov make a point of participating in the Simchas Bais Hashoeivah celebrations at Toldos Aharon, at Yeshiva Meah Shearim, at Pinsk-Karlin, and at many other yeshivos, botei medrash and shuls across the country. There, they watch as people who have little by way of material goods, dance. Those they are watching probably do not have large sukkos or individual sets of Dalet Minim for each child, but what they do have is sublime Sukkos sentiment. They have the simcha that eludes people who are blessed with many more physical possessions than they have.
In fact, you should not have to travel far to experience that ecstatic feeling of joy. You can sense that joy in your local shul. You can feel it in your own home. You can experience it in your own sukkah.
On Sukkos, the sense of being chosen, loved, glorified and blessed with special mitzvos is palpable. Just as we lovingly and carefully select our esrogim, that is how Hakadosh Boruch Hu selected us. The Dalet Minim, we are taught, hint to the totality of Knesses Yisroel. He selected us, He cherishes us, and He lovingly protects us.
Appreciating being chosen and gifted infuses us with that vital ingredient of simcha, enabling us to march into the sukkah with happiness and enthusiasm.
There is still one thing that can dampen our enthusiasm: drops of rain on the very first night of Sukkos, a downpour that comes between us and our beloved sukkah, when, filled with holy anticipation, we just want to enter and make Kiddush.
The entire family peers longingly into the room they worked so hard to construct and decorate. Instead of being able to go inside and recite Shehechiyonu, thanking Hashem for enabling them to live for this moment and partaking of the requisite amount of challah before enjoying a tasty meal, they stand outside with long faces, hoping and praying that the rain will stop and they will be able to properly observe the mitzvah of sukkah.
Rain on Sukkos is distressing for a deeper reason than ruined meals and sukkah decorations. There is a Divine message inherent in the driving downpour. The Mishnah in Sukkah (28b) relates that rain on Sukkos is compared to a servant who pours a drink for his master, only to have the master throw it in his face.
Rashi (ibid.) explains that when it rains, it is as if the master is throwing water in the servant’s face. The Mishnah didn’t state what type of liquid was involved. What compelled Rashi to specify that it is water?
To address this question, we need to examine the deeper relationship between the Yom Tov of Sukkos and water.
The Yom Tov of Sukkos is intertwined with water. Back at the very beginning, there was conflict between the mayim elyonim, the higher waters, and their lower counterpart, the mayim tachtonim. The waters relegated to earth complained that the upper waters enjoyed closer proximity to the Master of the Universe. Hashem assured the lower waters that although they are distant, they would enjoy the unique and special merit of being brought on the mizbeiach on Sukkos. This is an explanation of the great simcha of nisuch hamayim, the distant waters coming from the lowest spheres to bring Him glory, are representative of a nation of fresh baalei teshuvah climbing the rungs back towards home.
Chazal say that one who did not merit witnessing the Simchas Bais Hashoeivah never saw true joy, because there is no joy quite like perfect teshuvah, something coming back to its source. At creation, all the waters were one. Then they were separated, and at the exalted moment of nisuch hamayim, they come back.
Perfect joy. The harmony of the cosmos.
There is a rabbinic dispute as to whether the mitzvah of sukkah is to remember actual sukkos in which the Jews dwelled as they traveled through the midbar on their way to Eretz Yisroel or if it is to commemorate the Ananei Hakavod that protected us during that period.
Ananim, clouds, are composed of water. But the connection goes deeper. Among the four annual judgment periods, the Mishnah in Maseches Rosh Hashanah lists Sukkos as the time of judgment for water in the coming year.
The Acharonim ask that if we are judged for life on Rosh Hashanah, shouldn’t that judgment include how much water we will be blessed with in the coming year? After all, man cannot live without water.
The answer given is that we are judged on how much water we will be granted, but if we are later found unworthy, that water comes to earth in the form of floods and in places and times when the rain is not needed.
The Chofetz Chaim would tell of a simple peddler who eked out his meager living by traveling from one hamlet to another with his wares piled high on a sled. As long as the snow was plentiful, his old, tired horse was able to easily pull the sled. One year, though, the snow melted early and the sled was stuck.
The simple Jew raised his eyes to a nearby mountain, its peak topped with a beautiful cap of white snow. “Ribono Shel Olam,” sighed the Jew, “all that snow that You created You put up there, on top of the high mountain. Can’t I get just a little bit of it here so that my sled can slide on?”
The Chofetz Chaim would use this parable to explain the posuk in Tehillim which states, “Ach tov l’Yisroel.” Dovid Hamelech asks for only good for Klal Yisroel. The Chofetz Chaim explains that the request is that the bounty and shefa that come to the world should be directed towards Klal Yisroel, so that they can benefit from the blessings.
The judgment for water that the Mishnah tells us takes place on Sukkos is to determine whether the amount of water that was decided upon on Rosh Hashanah will bring blessing where we need it or if it will fall in desolate, empty areas.
On Sukkos, we daven for blessed water that will fulfill the mandate of mayim chaim, representing chessed and rachamim, Hashem’s great mercy.
Coming on the heels of the yemei hadin, Sukkos represents our first test to determine how we made out in our din. We are joyous and hopeful that by the end of Yom Kippur, we successfully repented for our sins and earned Hashem’s mercy. We anticipate the Yom Tov as well as the yom hadin on mayim, confident that we will merit more joy and success, waters of bounty and purity.
And so, when rain falls on Sukkos, it’s an indication to us that we may not have earned the middas hachessed. If the rain falls on our cheftzah shel mitzvah and we are prevented from carrying out the tzivuy Hashem, we see that as a bad portent for the coming year, because it hints that the water destined for us might not fall at the desired location and time.
Hashem commands us to sit in the sukkah: “Lemaan yeidu doroseichem ki basukkos hoshavti es Bnei Yisroel behotzi’i osam mei’eretz Mitzrayim – So that your future generations will know that I placed the Jewish people in sukkos when I took them out of Mitzrayim.”
If it rains on the Yom Tov of Sukkos, it is as if there is a Heavenly proclamation that our service is not appreciated.
But this, too, is a chessed, because the window is still wide open. Mayim, which represents chessed, is poured at us in a fit of anger, kevayachol, to encourage us to rectify our ways before Hoshanah Rabbah, so that we will merit a year of proper blessing, proper rainfall and life.
With this idea, we can understand as well why one who sits in the sukkah as rain is falling is termed a hedyot, a fool, by Chazal. Rain on Sukkos is a message to us that we must work harder to find favor in the eyes of Hashem. We are in danger because our teshuvah and avodah during the Yomim Noraim were not sufficient. Someone who ignores that message is a hedyot. The proper response is sadness over being turned away and engaging in teshuvah in order to be welcomed back in the Tzilah Demehemnusah. There is still time to complete the teshuvah and still an abundance of Divine favor to tap into. Don’t just sit there. Do something! To ignore the call of the hour represents simplicity and a lack of understanding.
The posuk in Parshas Ki Savo (Devorim 28:2) states, “Uvau alecha kol habrachos ha’eileh vehisigucha – These blessings will come upon you and they will reach you.” Meforshim explain the double lashon, stating that it is not sufficient to have a flow of brachos directed at us. They have to reach us, overtake us, and saturate our homes and lives.
The judgment of Sukkos decides how the brachos of Rosh Hashanah will rain down on us. We hope that we will be so fortunate as to merit vehisigucha,that they will reach us. We hope that the snow and rain will fall where we can benefit from them.
When speaking at sheva brachos, Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky would often say that the teaching of Chazal that a chosson is forgiven for his sins is a condition to his mitzvah of simcha. One who carries the burden of aveiros cannot be happy.
The Tchebiner Rov explained that this is the reason why Sukkos, with its special obligation of simcha, is celebrated after Yom Kippur. Following the day of forgiveness, we are able to carry out the mitzvah of being besimcha.
We come into Sukkos fresh and pure, determined to stay holy and clean, enjoying the full simcha of a Yom Tov that celebrates our redemption from the mire and morass of cheit.
It is no secret that we celebrate Sukkos this year under a cloudy sky. Winds of war and uncertainty are blowing very strongly. The enemies of the Jews fought very hard on Rosh Hashanah, as they do every year, for permission to destroy us.
We hope that the merit of our Torah, avodah and gemillus chassodim, coupled with our teshuvah, tefillah and tzedakah, were ma’avir the ro’a hagezeirah, and that we were chosen by Hashem to be granted a year of good health and happiness.
In the times of the Beis Hamikdosh, Sukkos was a Yom Tov that benefited not only us, but all the nations. The Gemara in Maseches Sukkah [55b] describes how various korbanos brought throughout the Yom Tov would benefit the umos ha’olam, each korbon bringing sustenance to another nation.
The Gemara says that the enemies of the Jewish people should have realized how much they were harming themselves by destroying the Bais Hamikdosh. When they destroyed the mekor habracha, they essentially cut off their own flow and the mizbei’ach which forgave them for their sins.
Rav Chaim Kanievsky applied this Chazal to the realities all around us when he recently remarked that the politicians and activists determined to do battle with the yeshivos don’t realize how much they depend on those very yeshivos they are trying to close down. They are unaware of how much bracha and protection the Torah affords them.
Age-old lessons, still not learned.
We, who appreciate the birchos hachag and Atoh Vechartonu live in the sukkah for seven days and become so ingrained with the inherent simcha that Sukkos engenders that when it is over, we celebrate Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah.
The customs of singing and dancing that we celebrate on Simchas Torah are not Biblical or Talmudic in origin. If you delve into the seforim of the poskim in an attempt to trace the roots of our celebration, it becomes apparent that the holiday was actually created by the Jewish people.
Over the course of many centuries, ehrliche Yidden channeled their overflowing simcha with the Torah into the rich display of joy and festivity that became the hallmark of Simchas Torah as we practice it today.
After living in the sukkah and reigniting our faith in the Almighty as we inculcate the lessons of the Jews who followed Hashem into the midbar, we reach a state of spontaneous ecstasy that carries us through the oncoming winter season and the continuing exile.
We celebrate the Atoh Vechartonu and the fact that Hashem gave us the Torah.
May all the nights of Sukkos be balmy, all its days sunny, and all members of our nation happy and joyful.