We are meant to be joyous on every Yom Tov, but the Yom Tov of Sukkos has the special distinction of being referred to as Zeman Simchoseinu, our time of happiness. Why is Sukkos distinct in its added measures of simcha?
Tishrei is the most special month on the Jewish calendar, beginning with Rosh Hashanah, continuing with the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah, Yom Kippur, Sukkos and Hoshanah Rabbah, and concluding with Shemini Atzeres. Each Yom Tov has its own halachos, cherished minhagim, and segulos, accomplishing different things for the Jewish people.
Tishrei is preceded by the month of Elul, when Hashem is closer to the Jewish people and more accepting of the teshuvah of those who seek to improve their ways as they prepare for the Yom Hadin, the judgment of Rosh Hashanah. All throughout the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah, we add extra tefillos and concentrate on teshuvah, seeking forgiveness for our aveiros and to be sealed for a good year.
The posuk in Koheles (7:29) states, “Ha’Elokim asah es ha’adam yoshor veheimah bikshu cheshbonos rabim.” The Nefesh Hachaim (1:6) explains that when Hashem created man, He fashioned him to be good, proper and correct, yoshor, and in his nature, man had no inclination to do anything improper or to sin on his own. Adam was given bechirah, the freedom to choose on his own to do mitzvos or do aveiros should he be convinced by something outside of his body to do wrong. But according to his nature and the way he was created, he had no pull or desire to do what is incorrect.
That changed when the nochosh convinced Chava to disobey Hashem’s commandment not to eat from the Eitz Hada’as. As the Gemara in Maseches Shabbos (146a) says, the nochosh “hitil boh zuhamoh,” literally translated as infected her with moral contamination. When that happened, everything changed. The zuhamah was a spiritual poison that changed man’s nature and created in him a desire to sin. From then on, he didn’t need an outside push to do aveiros. He was able to be drawn to chato’im on his own.
If a person chooses to go in the path of proper conduct, then, each time he does a mitzvah and a chesed, it strengthens his ability to act positively. It is like exercise. Each time you lift a weight, your arm muscles strengthen. The more weights you lift, the further you walk, and the more laps you swim, the stronger you become.
It works the same way in the spiritual realm. When we do mitzvos and learn Torah, it strengthens our tzad hatov and we become better people and more drawn to doing mitzvos and learning Torah.
If we go the other way and begin doing aveiros, then the tzad hatov decreases, and each time we do an aveirah, our souls become blackened and we become more distant from Hakadosh Boruch Hu.
The Ramchal writes (Derech Hashem 4:8) that teshuvah is accepted with greater ease on Yom Kippur, and Yom Kippur even has the ability to totally erase the sins, repair the damage they caused, and return the repentant person to his previous holy condition, separated from ra and reconnected to Hashem.
A similar concept is presented by the Bais Halevi in his drashos (15). It was also recounted by Rav Chaim Shlomo Leibowitz in the name of his uncle, Rav Boruch Ber Leibowitz, and published in a yarchon, Mishnas Yerach Ha’eisonim. Yom Kippur cleans away the chet, removes its residue, and returns the baal teshuvah to his original state before his chato’im created in him an inclination and urge to sin.
This is what Yeshayahu hanovi is referring to when he says that Hashem proclaims (Yeshayahu 1:18), “Im yihiyu chata’eichem kashonim kasheleg yalbinu, im yaadimu katolah k’tzemer yihiyu.” If you show remorse and are mis’choreit on the aveirah, Hashem will wipe it clean and you will return to your previous clean state.
This is why immediately following Yom Kippur, we begin engaging in mitzvos. We recite Kiddush Levanah, go home, make Havdolah, and begin building the sukkah.
Following the cleansing of Yom Kippur, we are now returned to the situation we were in before we sinned. We no longer have zuhamah. We don’t have the stains of sin on our souls. We don’t have anything pushing us to do the wrong thing.
We therefore become engaged in doing mitzvos, strengthening our tzad hatov and adding zechuyos to our ledger. As we study Torah and perform mitzvos, our devotion to Torah and mitzvos becomes strengthened.
As we busy ourselves with mitzvos, we are also ensuring that we don’t permit the ra, the Soton, the yeitzer hora, to return and begin building in us an appetite for chet.
And then Sukkos comes, and we enter the sukkah and dwell there for seven days, enveloped by Hashem’s protection, under the tzila demehemnusa. We perform the mitzvos of the chag, further strengthening our tzad hatov, so that by the time Yom Tov is over, we are bulked up with mitzvos and strong enough to take on the evil which will undoubtedly confront and seek to tempt us.
Not only that, but as we dwell under the shade of the sukkah, we are protected from aveiros.
Sukkos follows the Yomim Noraim because when the Bnei Yisroel sinned with the Eigel in the midbar, they lost the protection of the Shechinah and the Ananei Hakavod departed. They did teshuvah and were forgiven on Yom Kippur. On Sukkos, the Ananei Hakavod returned and surrounded them, sheltering them from their enemies and the elements.
On Yom Kippur, the hashpa’ah of the selicha of the original day of forgiveness in the desert is renewed, and following our teshuvah, we are forgiven for our sins just as our forefathers were. On Sukkos, we once again merit the protection of the Ananei Hakavod in the form of the tzila demehemnusa which hovers over our sukkos.
This is the meaning of the Zohar (3:103) which states, “Ta chazi, beshaata da tzila demehemnusa shechintah parsa gadfa alei mele’aila – When a person enters the sukkah, the Shechinah spreads its wings over him.” The Vilna Gaon expresses the concept a bit differently, saying that the posuk in Shir Hashirim (1:4) of “Heviani haMelech chadorov – The King [Hashem] brought me into his room” refers to the sukkah.
This is the reason for the extra joy on Sukkos, as the posuk (Devorim 16:14-15) states, “Vesomachta bechagecha vehoyisa ach someiach.” Sukkos is Zeman Simchoseinu, because on these days, we are cleansed from sin, concentrating on performing mitzvos and enveloped in Hashem’s embrace. What could be better?
The Vilna Gaon writes (Even Sheleimah 11:14-15) that everything that transpires during the month of Tishrei hints to the World to Come. First there is the Day of Judgment, Rosh Hashanah. Then all sins are forgiven on Yom Kippur. Finally, there is the great joy of Sukkos and Shemini Atzeres/Simchas Torah. The future will mirror this. First there will be the Day of Judgment and then the realization of the pesukim, “Vezorakti aleichem mayim tehorim,” and, “Ki eslach la’asher ashear.” Then there will be Sukkos, as the posuk says, “Vesukkah tihiyeh letzeil yomam,” referring to the time of simcha. This will be followed by Shemini Atzeres, when the deniers of Hashem’s existence will disappear and Klal Yisroel will celebrate “Atzeres tihiyeh lochem.”
Our children and grandchildren sit with us in the sukkah, much as we sat with our parents and grandparents in their sukkah, in a scene that has been repeated millions of times over the ages. The sukkah, as our existence, has usually been tenuous and fragile, but though it is a temporary structure, its message is permanent and eternal. Despite the way things appear, we are never alone, we will never disappear. As the sukkah, we will be everlasting because Hashem is with us, unseen, but evident, through his tzeila d’meheimnusa.
Despite all that has been thrown at us throughout the ages and as difficult as it was in some periods to observe the mitzvah, Jews have sought refuge in the sukkah, knowing and believing that Hashem’s spirit hovers there offering protection from the enemies, elements, the soton and the yetzer hora.
If a list were to be compiled of enduring symbols of Jewish life in golus, the sukkah would be there along with the haunting, melancholy, joyous Yiddish tune “Ah sukkale ah kleineh” playing in the background. The beautiful, classic tune tells the story of a man who fashioned his sukkah from some old wooden boards and covered it with green s’chach branches. As he sits in his sukkah, reciting kiddush on the first night of Yom Tov, a bitter wind blows, threatening the flickering candles, which refuse to be extinguished and continue offering light.
His young daughter is terrified that the sukkah will be toppled by the winds. “Have no fear,” he calmly tells her. “The sukkah is already standing for 2,000 years. The winds that are blowing, which you are so afraid of, will calm and dissipate, but our sukkaleh will remain strong.”
Way back when, the Slonimer Rebbe met a cantonist soldier on Sukkos. The unfortunate young man was one of the many children who were torn away from their families at a young age and placed in the Czar’s army for twenty-five years. The boys grew up removed from Torah and religion and led miserable lives in the Russian army. The young man whom the rebbe met was away for so long that only faint recollections of normal life remained. He was separated from his family for so long that he had forgotten most of which he learned and what it meant to be loved.
The rebbe looked at the soldier and said to him, “Your face has a special glow. Please tell me what zechus you have. Which mitzvah did you perform to merit this that I sense about you?”
The soldier did not remember doing anything special. He told the rebbe that he was forced to stand guard for hours at a time and when he was done, he had no strength left to do much but rest in bed.
The rebbe pressed him and the soldier remembered that on Sukkos, he had eaten a small meal in a sukkah. He said that for some reason on the first night of Sukkos, he felt a strong pull to eat in a sukkah. He asked a fellow soldier to stand guard for him, switching shifts so he could take a break.
He snuck out of the barracks and ran to the Jewish section of town where he was not allowed to be. He found a home with a sukkah behind it. He knocked on the door and asked the family if he might join them. They were thrilled to welcome and befriend a Cantonist. They helped the unlearned soldier recite kiddush and recite the brocha of leisheiv basukkah. He ate some challah and a piece of fish, bentched and quickly returned to his post before his absence would be noticed.
“That’s it, rebbe. That was the only mitzvah I did in a very long time and it was nothing special,” he said.
“What did you do when you returned to the base?” asked the rebbe.
The soldier looked down and said, “The truth is that I was so excited at having eaten in a sukkah that as I stood all alone at my post, I began dancing, so happy about what I had done.”
The poor suffering Cantonist, separated so long from Yiddishkeit and Yidden, had a burst of inspiration and ended up in a sukkah, where he was overwhelmed by the embrace of the tzeila d’meheimnusa, receiving a jolt of energy and happiness and an enduring glow.
The story of the Jew in golus. May we all be like that Cantonist, energized and empowered by the sukkah, swept off our feet with joy every time we merit to be enveloped in its embrace.
May we all be zoche that the situation we find ourselves in over Sukkos extends throughout the year, as we concentrate on doing good and avoiding the forbidden. May our Torah, avodah and maasim tovim strengthen us, bring us joy, and be a source of merit to bring Moshiach.