Succos is a festival of paradoxes for the uninitiated. On the one hand, it is accompanied by what seems, G-d forbid, to be strange rites; living by choice in a funny shack, waving various articles of garden produce in fervent rapture and shuffling around the synagogue to repetitive chants. On the other hand, all Jewish children will testify to the fact that Succos is our sweetest festival; a time of joy and song, a little strong drink and much dancing. Most importantly, it is the time of year when Jews concentrate hard on the business of really loving each other and bring that intellectual effort into emotional reality.
What then is really going on? What are the spiritual cloud formations we can, with training, look up and see? The answers go to the deepest and most exciting levels of Torah.
We will see together when learning about Shavuos that Hashem changed creation at the time of the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. From then on, neshomos were able to effect a crossing from the spiritual to the physical. It is sufficient here to note this and to understand perhaps later that Jews actually have the power to infuse the physical with the spiritual. It is of course this wondrous power which gives Jews the ability to make a dwelling place for Hashem in the lowest of possible worlds - this one, which is, after all, the whole purpose of physical creation.
We begin with the mitzvah to live in a succah for seven days to remind us that Hashem brought us out of Mitzrayim in succos (i.e. clouds of glory). The knowledge that Hashem put us in succos is actually part of the mitzvah.
How important is the succah to a Jew with education? Being the only mitzvah a Jew can actually enter and have surround him, its preciousness is incalculable. Chassidim tell a famous story at the time of Succos.
One of Europe's most famous early Chassidic Rebbes, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok was the Rav of Berditchev where one year there was no esrog. A visitor was passing through the town. It having come to the attention of R. Levi that the visitor possessed a precious esrog, he was summoned to see the Rebbe and invited to stay over Succos. This being impossible for the visitor, R. Levi, in apparent desperation, made him an offer no sane man could refuse. If he stayed in Berditchev that Succos, the Tzaddik, by a legally effective process guaranteed to be together with him in the World to Come! The visitor, trembling at the enormity of his good fortune, of course agreed. With his now bankable future, the Jew headed off to synagogue on the first night of the festival, his heart aflame.
Meanwhile the Rebbe secretly had all the townsfolk severely instructed not to allow the visitor into any of their succos under any circumstances whatsoever.
At the conclusion of davening, the stranger waited for the line of people to invite him home - after all, his was now a unique status. As one by one the sturdy folk avoided him, he was forced to be more forthright and began to ask for hospitality. To his dismay, everyone was full up, all with no room for even one more guest.
The stranger began to panic and ran to the Rebbe's succah only to be denied admission there too. After desperate inquiry as to what was happening, the Rebbe calmly informed him that he would only be permitted access to the succah on reassignment of the promise! The visitor was devastated. How could he, seeing, as it were, into Gan Eden, surrender such a prize? Equally, however, how could he be without the mitzvah of succah?! With tears of frustration and the demeanor of one totally outmaneuvered, he chokingly returned the trophy. After Yom Tov the Rebbe informed the Jew that, because of his choosing the mitzvah over even being guaranteed a place with the Rebbe in the World to Come, he had earned a portion of his own there greater than he had surrendered. Such is the power of the mitzvah of Succah.
The astute reader will have noted from the story not only the importance of the succah but also the obvious importance of having the Esrog. Equally important are the remaining of the four species of Lulav, Hadassim and Arovos.
Throughout the festival of Succos, we grasp the four species together and intermittently shake them and draw them to our hearts. Wonderful symbolism exists here; the four species represent four species of neshomos within the mighty genus of Jewry.
The Esrog - a beautiful fruit which has both taste and smell represents the Jew who has both Torah and mitzvos.
The Lulav - a date palm branch has taste but no smell represents the Jew with Torah but lacking in mitzvos.
The Hadassim - myrtle leaves have smell but no taste and represent the Jew with mitzvos but no learning.
The Arovos - willow leaves with neither smell nor taste represent the Jew without either Torah or mitzvos.
All too often in the year, the nation of Israel is divided. Succos time, however, all kinds of Jew bind together in pursuit of unity to do Hashem's will.
At a much deeper level, it is time to consider another very important set of currents in Torah. Just as we have previously seen the ebb and flow of golus and geulah; flight and return; descent and ascent - it is time to see the process of makkif (encompassing) and pnimiyus (internalizing). Through Torah there are fascinating waves of notions which are makkif which roll towards the beach of a person's endeavors. A neshomah induces these waves to break and so internalizes the foam into pnimiyus (internal).
A clear example of this is the difference between every Jew's emunah (belief and connection with G-d) and his daily understanding of this. His emunah is makkif (general and encompassing). His understanding is pnimiyus (personal to him and internalized). Every Jew from birth by definition, as we have seen earlier, has emunah (makkif - encompassing). It takes rigorous education however to bring this into personal understanding (pnimiyus - internalized).
Marvelously, this same process is available to every Jew daily. He wakes in the morning shaded by the encompassing shelter of his belief in G-d. This however is general and can only be applied to practical use through bringing this general level down to pnimiyus (internal) by learning and davening first thing in the morning and then holding that particularization throughout the pulls and pushes of the physical day.
A curious phenomenon occurs when a Jew brings down makkif (encompassing) into pnimiyus (internal); the power of the level that was makkif (encompassing) becomes greater when brought into pnimiyus (internal)!
When a Jew learns and daven's (as we have seen bringing down the emunah (makkif - encompassing) to the pnimiyus (internal)), he actually increases the emunah and the more it permeates his entire being.
This of course is the tragic mistake of the Jew who asks for a sign before he will act. It is the very action which increases that which is escaping him. Without bringing down the makkif (encompassing) to pnimiyus (internal), he prevents the growth of the makkif (encompassing).
Rosh HaShanah is makkif (encompassing), Yom Kippur pnimiyus (internal).
Succos reveals the entire process of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. In Succos itself, the succah is makkif (encompassing), shaking the four species is pnimiyus (internal). We build the succah (makkif - encompassing) and enter it to internalize the joining of all categories of Jew into one unity (pnimiyus - internal). This is a process which requires seven days. During these seven days every Jew can also take the four categories in himself and join them together in a more unified service of G-d.
This then is why we dwell in a succah seven days. We are processing, internalizing, drawing down the cataclysmic forces present at Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur into a bonding of all Jews of whatever level into service of Hashem for the whole year.
Our Rebbe in the story, R. Levi Yitzchok, of course understood all this. The neshomah of the simple visitor was great enough to participate in the process just described. A man who will give up paradise to unify the holy nation of Israel is in fact achieving paradise immediately.
- (Back to text) See for example Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 1, p. 41.
- (Back to text) See Shulchan Aruch HaRav 625:1.
- (Back to text) See commentary of Bach on Ibid.
- (Back to text) See Sippurei Chassidim on Festivals Vol. 1, p. 117.
- (Back to text) See Vayikra Rabbah 30:12.
- (Back to text) See for example Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 24, p. 182ff.
- (Back to text) See Likkutei Torah, Rosh HaShanah 58b.
- (Back to text) Ibid., 54d.
- (Back to text) See for example Sefer HaMaamarim Melukot Vol. 1, p. 175ff.