Shimon Peres decorating Succa370.
(photo credit: Mark Neiman/GPO)
Succot is one of the most well-known of the Jewish holidays. In the Torah, it is
called “chag ha’asif” (the harvest festival) because it falls during the time of
harvesting the fields and storing the harvest. Succot is seven days long (the
eighth day being Shmini Atzeret-Simchat Torah, a separate holiday). The first
day of Succot is a “yom tov” (literally “a good day”) with laws almost identical
to those of Shabbat, while the next six days, “chol hamoed,” the “intermediate
days” are almost like regular weekdays.
During the days of Succot, we
transfer the center of our home lives from the house to the succah. We eat and
sleep in the succah instead of in the house.
Before we begin eating the
festive meal, we recite a special blessing: “Blessed are you Hashem our God,
King of the World, who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us
to sit in the succah.”
The reason for this mitzvah is stated in the Torah
in one sentence: “You shall dwell in booths seven days; all that are home-born
in Israel shall dwell in booths; that your generations may know that I made the
children of Israel to dwell in booths, when I brought them out of the land of
Egypt: I am the LORD your God” (Leviticus 23: 42-43) Thus the reason offered by
the Torah for the mitzvah is evidently an educational one. If we study it, we
can gain a perspective on the existence of man and his relationship to his
possessions, particularly regarding Am Yisrael’s inhabiting Eretz Yisrael, the
Land of Israel. This perspective is particularly appropriate to today’s reality,
with Am Yisrael having returned en masse to the land of its forefathers and
making it bloom gloriously.
Man sits in his house, calm and content. The
period of harvest is at its peak and the workers are toiling at bringing the
abundant harvest in. And then, a reminder: Go out to the succah, so that you and
your children know “that I made the children of Israel to dwell in booths, when
I brought them out of the land of Egypt.”
What is this “reminder”
actually reminding us of? THE SUCCAH reminds us of the special connection
between Am Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael, and the special circumstances which
created this connection.
Eretz Yisrael is the homeland of the Jewish
nation, true – but the nation was not born in it. The nation was born and
created in exile, in Egypt, and brought to Eretz Yisrael by God. This was not an
obvious or natural occurrence! This, the Torah tells us, is something which you
must never forget.
Moreover, it is especially during the calmest of
times, when man feels a sense of financial security as he collects his harvest,
that he most needs this reminder. Especially then, the entire family goes out to
the succah and remembers that the house, their stability, is not to be taken for
granted. It is a gift from God, who gave us the land and maintains us on
This is the lesson of the succah; all that we have is a gift from
God, for which we must be grateful to Him.
It seems this is particularly
Less than 70 years ago, most of the Jewish nation did
not have a piece of land on which to rest their heads. After the horrific
Holocaust, the Jewish nation was wounded. Many Jews searched for a country to
take them in and did not find one. Even the entrance to the Land of Israel was
blocked and Jews had to stow away in boats to smuggle themselves into the land
of their forefathers. And now, not that many years later, we are privileged to
be living here in relative calm and contentment.
So we must go out to the
succah once a year and remember that the situation we are in now is not to be
taken for granted. We must remember and acknowledge the fact that we are
privileged to be living, blooming and flourishing in Eretz Yisrael – and for
this we must offer God our thanks.
The writer is rabbi of the Western
Wall and Holy Sites.