From a place of purity to a place of peace

While we are required to rejoice during every festival, Succot is an especially joyous holiday.

PEOPLE SHOP for the Four Species in Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda market (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
PEOPLE SHOP for the Four Species in Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda market
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Anyone who has ever been to Jerusalem in the days between Yom Kippur and Succot will testify that there is a unique energy in the air. A frenzy. The city is abuzz. The excitement is palpable, as people fill the streets and flood the markets, buying the Four Species, supplies for their succot and food for the holiday.
Many have the custom to begin building their succa immediately following the conclusion of Yom Kippur.
After fasting and praying all day, they eat something and get to right to work – going from one mitzvah to the next – not delaying or missing the opportunity. It is a labor of love, which expresses the desire to carry over the inspiration of the past 25 hours. There is something magical that takes place on these Jerusalem rooftops and balconies, lit by the moon and stars. In my neighborhood of Har Nof, you can hear hammering (and singing!) well into the night. It’s an intense ending to an intense day.
The custom to begin building one’s succa immediately following Yom Kippur is cited by Rabbi Moshe Isserles, the Rema, in his glosses to Orah Hayyim 624:5 and 625:1. Curiously, the Rema cites this minhag (custom) twice: Once in the last section of the Laws of Yom Kippur, and then again in the first section of the Laws of Succot.
Why does the Rema, always meticulous in his comments, cite this custom twice? And what is the reason for this practice? Can’t the succa wait until the next day? The Mishnah Berurah (ad loc.) suggests that the first time the Rema records the minhag, he mentions that “those scrupulous in observance [ha-medaqdiqim] begin building immediately....” Everyone else, explains the Mishnah Berurah, begins the next day. That is why the custom appears twice in the Rema: once for those who begin at night and once for those who begin the next day.
But that answer is difficult to accept as the Maharil (Minhagim, Hil. Succot), an early source for the practice, writes that immediately following Yom Kippur “every individual” should be involved in building the succa – not just those scrupulous in their observance! Perhaps there is a deeper answer. By building the succa immediately after Yom Kippur, we recognize the intimate connection between Succot and the days that immediately precede it. By mentioning the custom in both the Laws of Yom Kippur and again in the Laws of Succot, the Rema stresses this intimate connection.
According to Rabbi Shlomo Kluger (Hokhmat Shlomo, Orah Hayyim 625:1), we begin building the succa right after Yom Kippur, for God, so to speak, covers over our sins on Yom Kippur, and on Succot covers us with His Succa.
This intimate connection between the Days of Awe and Succot is deeply rooted in our historical experience.
According to one opinion, the succa we sit in represents God’s Clouds of Glory, which protected the Jewish People in the Wilderness (Succa 11b; Torat Kohanim 17:11). But after the Sin of the Golden Calf, the Clouds of Glory were removed from the Jewish People. On Yom Kippur, the Jewish People were forgiven for the Sin of the Golden Calf, and the Clouds of Glory returned. The Vilna Gaon writes that the holiday of Succot commemorates the return of the Clouds of Glory and with them, the Divine Presence. This is why, explains the Gaon, Succot is celebrated at this time of year – immediately following Yom Kippur (See the Vilna Gaon’s Commentary to Song of Songs 1:4).
Once Succot begins, we are surrounded by mitzvot – an expression of our closeness with God. We carry the lulav through the streets, raised like a banner, expressing confidence that we were victorious in judgment just days prior.
And while we are required to rejoice during every festival, Succot is especially joyous (See Rambam’s Hilchot Lulav 8:12-15). In fact, in our liturgy, Succot is called the “time of our rejoicing.” It is the paradigm of joyful celebration. That joy is a result of our closeness with God, achieved during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
During these incredible days between the Days of Awe and Succot, we go from a place of purity (lifnei Hashem titha’ru) to a place of peace (haporeis succat shalom aleinu).
As we sit in the succa, the Divine Presence surrounds us. In Hassidic thought, it is a symbol of God’s love.
The Sefat Emet compares the succa to a huppa, a wedding canopy. It is the canopy under which the Jewish Nation is wed to God. The succa is also an embrace.
According to Jewish Law, the succa must have at least two walls and a handbreadth. The “two walls” and a “handbreadth” could appear like an arm providing a great big Divine hug. And after having gone through the Days of Awe – isn’t that all we need?
The author lives and teaches in Jerusalem.