By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
On Rosh Hashanah, we partake of selected fruits and vegetables and recite various prayers for a happy, healthy and successful new year as we eat them. The source of this custom is the Gemara in Horayos (12a) and a similar Gemara in Krisus (6a) where Abaye states that since we derive that a “siman” is “milsah,” an effective sign, we should eat gourds, leeks, beets and dates on Rosh Hashanah.
There are various ways to interpret the meaning of Abaye’s statement and the resulting custom amongst all of Klal Yisroel to eat these various foods and recite a yehi ratzon over them. Examining these approaches will help us gain an understanding of the mitzvah of sukkah.
The commonly understood basis for this custom is, as the Shelah (Perek Ner Mitzvah, 21) explains, that the eating of these foods and the recital of the yehi ratzon prayers which accompany that act are to remind us to do teshuvah and repent for our sins so that we may be positively judged for the new year.
The Chochmas Shlomo in Shulchan Aruch (583:1) explains it differently. He says that we eat these foods and partake of sweets to demonstrate our belief that all will turn out for the good. By doing so, even if it was decreed otherwise, through emunah and bitachon and the accompanying statements we utter, we can overturn the evil decree.
He adds that a person should be in the habit of saying that everything Hashem does is for the good, and that way, it will indeed turn out to be good. Perhaps this is the source for the Yiddish expression, “Tracht gut, vet zein gut – If you think it is good, it will be good.”
The Maharsha in Horayos also states that we prepare these foods to demonstrate our belief that Hashem will judge us for a successful new year. He adds that through bitachon, a verdict for a sad year can be overturned.
Some Acharonim go even further. The Maharal in Beer Hagolah (2:7) and the Yaavetz in his siddur (Leil Rosh Hashanah) explain that we eat foods with a good “siman,” because through exercising the “milsah” aspect of these simanim, we are able to affect the outcome of the judgment of Rosh Hashanah in our favor.
Rabbeinu Yonah in Shaarei Teshuvah (3, 31-32) derives the obligation to have bitachon and trust in Hashem in a time of need from the pesukim in Devorim (7:17-18) which state that when you go to war against your enemies and you see their many horses and men, you shall not fear them – “lo sirah meihem…” From here we see that when a person feels that trouble is approaching him, he should believe in his heart that Hashem will help him out and really have faith that he will be spared.
Every day of Elul and Tishrei, when we say the passage of LeDovid (Tehillim 27), we should see the words of Rabbeinu Yonah reflected there. We recite the words which say that Hashem is our light and salvation and we therefore don’t fear anyone. He is the strength of our life and we are thus not afraid of anyone else. When our evil enemies plot to destroy us and eat our flesh, it is they who will stumble and fall. Reminiscent of the pesukim from which Rabbeinu Yonah derives the mitzvah of bitachon, we declare that even if they prepare an army against us, “lo yirah libi,” we shall not fear.
We then continue and recite that if they bring a war against us, we still maintain our trust in Hashem. The only thing we ask is that we should merit dwelling in the house of Hashem. We declare that when we are in danger, we believe that Hashem will hide us in his sukkah shelter.
We recite this kapittel of Tehillim during this auspicious period, because the Medrash states that when the posuk says that Hashem is our light, this refers to Rosh Hashanah, when we say that He is our salvation, this refers to Yom Kippur, and when we say that He will hide us in his shelter, we are referring to the Yom Tov of Sukkos.
When we construct our sukkos and sit in them, perhaps we are also engaging in an act similar to that of eating the specified foods on Rosh Hashanah. We are demonstrating, through simanah milsah, our unending belief in Hashem and our complete bitachon that he will save and shelter us from our enemies and the darkness which pervades our world. We erect a flimsy room and live in it for a week to show that we take those words of Dovid Hamelech in Tehillim quite literally and recognize that our only source of salvation and support is Hashem.
Thus the Sefer Hachinuch (325) writes that the mitzvah of sukkah is designed so that we remember the miracles which Hashem performed for the Jews in the Midbar after they left Mitzrayim, and that He covered them so that the sun would not burn them during the day and the cold would not freeze them at night.
Rabbeinu Chananel, at the beginning of Maseches Sukkah, writes that there is an obligation to tell our children and family that Hashem gave us sukkos in the Midbar, as the posuk states, “Lemaan yeid’uh doroseichem ki basukkos hoshavti es Bnei Yisroel.” It isn’t enough to just eat and sleep in the sukkah. There is an inherent obligation that we recognize why we are doing this and discuss it.
The Bnei Yisroel merited the splitting of the Yam Suf because of their bitachon in Hashem, as the posuk states, “Vayaaminu baHashem uveMoshe avdo.” When they saw their belief realized and actualized, they sang the eternal shirah of Az Yoshir and were led into the Midbar for the journey to the Promised Land.
The posuk states, “Lechtaich acharay bamidbar b’eretz lo zoruah.” They followed the word of Hashem and entered the desert with no visible means of support or sustenance, and in the merit of their belief, they were fed and protected.
Thus, we go into the sukkah and express our belief in and fidelity to Hashem, and we pray that we merit reaching the levels of bitachon displayed by our forefathers at the Yam Suf as they sang shirah, as the Mechiltah in parshas Beshalach writes that it was in the merit of their emunah that the Bnei Yisroel received ruach hakodesh and said the shirah.
We leave behind everything that we have gained through our work and toil. We declare that we acknowledge that all of our possessions are gifts from Hashem, and that if He wills it, we can survive in a temporal resting place. We show that it is not our might, muscle or money which we worship, but rather the Creator. We leave the comfort of the roofs above our heads which we constructed to protect us from the rain, wind, cold, heat and forces which seek our destruction and envelop ourselves in the sukkah of Hashem.
We demonstrate this theme further as we invite the Ushpizin, the people whose lives were totally dedicated to Hashem. As the Medrash (Bereishis Rabbah 47) explains, when Chazal say, “Ha’avos hein hamerkavah,” this means that the Avos were so close to Hashem that the Shechinah was always with them.
The Medrash in Parshas Vayeishev (39:2) quotes Rav Pinchos in the name of Rav Simon that the Shechinah went down to Mitzrayim with Yosef, as the posuk states, “Vayehi Hashem es Yosef.“ Thus, Yosef adhered to Hashem, as did Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov. The other Ushpizin, Moshe, Aharon and Dovid, were also completely dovuk in Hashem. Moshe was the closest human to Hashem, Aharon was the one who served Hashem in the Mishkan, and Dovid was na’im zemiros Yisroel; his only urge was to find himself in the house of Hashem
By inviting them in to join us in our sukkah, we are acting as we did on Rosh Hashanah when we said the yehi ratzons as we partook of the designated foods. We are pronouncing that following the days of Rosh Hashanah, Aseres Yemei Teshuvah and Yom Kippur, we have fully repented for our sins and bad middos which prevented us from acknowledging that we are nothing without Hashem. We prove this by entering a roof-less structure without heat, air conditioning or insulation, and we show that we depend on Hashem to protect us from the elements and raw winds which envelop the world. Simanah milsah. We affirm our newfound level of holiness and state our wish to be strictly in the house of Hashem by inviting the Ushpizin, who were the epitome of such devotion, to join with us in our sojourn in the shelter of Hashem.
This is why it is such a terrible omen if it rains on Sukkos. We have prepared ourselves for the simanah milsah of demonstrating how devoted we are to Hashem and the strength of our bitachon in His ability to protect and sustain us, and then the sky opens up and rain pours on us as we are left without any protection. By this, Hashem is showing us that we are not really on the level of bitachon that we should be, because if we were, He would have protected us and made sure that the rain wouldn’t fall on us by the dint of our belief in him.
One who sits in the sukkah as he is soaked by the drenching rain is referred to as a hedyot, because by sitting there and making as if he is oblivious to what is going on around him, he reveals that he has not learned the lesson of the simanah milsah of the sukkah. By ignoring the rain, he is confessing that he refuses to recognize that he lacks the proper bitachon in Hashem. He is thus a hedyot, a small person unworthy of sympathy for the situation he finds himself in.
This is why on Sukkos there is a joy which doesn’t exist at any other time on the Jewish calendar. When we stand in the sukkah, we are like the Jews who were about to set foot into the desert. We are so overcome by our bitachon that we are, in the words of the posuk, “ach sameiach.” This is the reward for people who place their complete faith in Hakadosh Boruch Hu, as is stated in the sefer Chovos Halevavos, Shaar Habitachon.
This Sukkos, as we sit in the sukkah surrounded by friends and family, let us internalize the message of the sukkah and thereby merit the brachos of Hashem reserved for those who place their complete faith in Him.
The Mechiltah quoted above in parshas Beshalach adds that just as the Bnei Yisroel at the yam suf merited to sing the shirah of oz yashir in reward for their emunah, so too the gathering of the exiles will take place at the end of days in reward for emunah.
Let us rejoice with all the good we have and pray that we merit to sit in the sukkah fashioned from the skins of the Livyasan very soon.