שביבי אש
חג הסוכות

חַג הַסֻּכֹּת תַּעֲשֶׂה לְךָ שִׁבְעַת יָמִים (דברים טז, יג)

A festival of sukkot you shall make for yourself for seven days.

The Sifri explains that the words "חַג הַסֻּכֹּת תַּעֲשֶׂה לְךָ" (a festival of sukkot for yourself) teach us that the sukkot are "להדיוט," i.e., for mundane purposes. But the Sifri then asks how we know that the sukkot are also "לגבוה" i.e., for sacred purposes. From another verse, ״חַג הַסֻּכּוֹת שִׁבְעַת יָמִים לד׳״(אלקיך)" (the festival of sukkot, seven days for the Lord your G-d) (Leviticus 23:34). But then the question arises why, if the sukkot are for sacred purposes, does the Scripture also say that the sukkot are for you (לְךָ)? To teach us that even if you make the sukkah for yourself, G-d considers the sukkah to have been made for His sake.

Our master explained the meaning of the Sifri as follows. During the harvest season, when a man gathers his crops, the fruits of all his labor, from the field, it is easy to delude himself and to bless himself in his heart, saying: "my hands have made all of this." And lest one exalt his heart and trust in his abundant wealth, we were commanded to fulfill, during harvest time, the commandment of the sukkah, which rouses our hearts to recognize that we require Divine Providence and that all the blessings that come to our homes have come to us from His hand.

One might think that all this relates only to material possessions, landed estates, gold and silver treasures, ivory palaces, and all objects of worldly desire. But concerning Torah and mitzvot, charity and kindness, fear of the Almighty and good deeds, perhaps it is, indeed, proper to be proud and to think well of oneself saying: "my wisdom enabled me to acquire for myself fear of G-d and abundant moral attainments. For such pride would seem to accord with what Jeremiah the prophet said (Jeremiah 9:23-24): "let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, let not the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches. But let him who glories glory in this, that he understands and knows Me." And similarly our Sages said, "everything is in the hands of Heaven except fear of Heaven."

However, the triumph of a man in the spiritual realm is also vain, for even in our service to and fear of the Blessed One our strength is too fragile to defend us against the evil inclination, which constantly agitates within us. As our Sages have said, "if it were not for the help of the Holy One Blessed Be He, we could not withstand our evil inclination." And concerning success in the study of our holy Torah, they said, "to interpret a Talmudic discussion in accord with the halakhah requires heavenly assistance."

So Jeremiah was referring only to a person who already has an egotistical bent. If one has such a tendency, then let him glory not in his wealth or in his worldly wisdom, but, based on the principle that performing a good deed for an ulterior motive leads one to perform the good deed for its own sake ("מתוך שלא לשמה בא לשמה"), let him glory rather in his knowledge and understanding of G-d. But true servants of G-d, knowing that their own fear of G-d and their moral accomplishments are but the gift of G-d (as it says, "Open up for Me the width of a needle and I will open it for you as wide as the door of a palace"), will distance themselves from any form of pridefulness. It is especially necessary to be conscientious about such pride when the danger is more acute.

At Sukkot-time, having just observed Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, having increased our study of Torah and our performance of good deeds, and having just repented unto G-d with all our hearts and all our souls, we have cleansed and purified our souls to such an extent that we are comparable to the angels on high. And since, during the period between Yom Kippur and Sukkot, we are completely preoccupied with our preparations for the mitzvot of sukkah and the four species, which is why our Sages commented on the verse "and you shall take for yourselves on the first day [of Sukkot]" (וּלְקַחְתֶּם לָכֶם בַּיּוֹם הָרִאשׁוֹן) (Leviticus 23:40), [instead of referring to the day of the month, as the Scripture usually does in identifying a particular date] that the first day of Sukkot is the first day of the New Year on which transgressions are counted. Because people are inclined to be prideful, they may boastfully say, "I have climbed the holy steps without help or support." However, if one fixes his gaze on the hidden meaning of the commandment of the sukkah, one will recognize, and thank G-d, that the Eternal has stood at his right side to enable him to gather mitzvot and good deeds into his storehouse.

This is what the Sifri was referring to in commenting that the verse "חַג הַסֻּכֹּת תַּעֲשֶׂה לְךָ" teaches us that the sukkah is related to the mundane. The Sifri meant that the sukkah teaches us a lesson about the temporal world and our material possessions, such as the harvest of crops. We are to be reminded that all our material accomplishments and acquisitions were possible only with the aid of Divine Providence. That, of course, is the well-known symbolism of the sukkah. But then the Sifri asks: how do we know that the same is true even לגבוה, i.e., in the realm of the sacred? In other words, how do we know that, even in acquiring Torah and good deeds through the fear of G-d, one may not take pride in his accomplishments? The Sifri answers that it is written "חַג הַסֻּכּוֹת שִׁבְעַת יָמִים לד׳" which teaches us that the symbolism of the sukkah extends even to the spiritual realm. The sukkah teaches us to recognize that we owe our spiritual as well as material achievements to Divine Providence. If so, the Sifri asks, why does the Scripture write "חַג הַסֻּכֹּת תַּעֲשֶׂה לְךָ" (make [the festival of sukkot] for yourself)? Is it not a קל וחומר? If it is impossible to acquire the Torah and perform good deeds without the aid of Divine Providence, how much more difficult must it be to acquire material possessions without Divine Providence? To this question the Sifri answers, as long as we make the sukkah, G-d considers it to have been made for His sake. In other words, if you understand and attribute you success in Torah and good deeds to the Almighty, then G-d will credit you as if your accomplishments had been achieved without Divine assistance. This is what is meant by the verse "חַג הַסֻּכֹּת תַּעֲשֶׂה לְךָ." For as a result of our understanding of the symbolism of the sukkah, G-d will attribute entirely to our own credit our efforts to fulfill the Torah and the commandments. In dwelling in the sukkah it is as if we say: "kindness is yours, O, G-d, how great is your kindness unto us" (וּלְךָ ד׳ חָסֶד חַסְדְּךָ גָּדוֹל עָלָי). You reward each one of us according to our own actions, as if we fulfilled Your commandments on our own without help. And this is a great kindness.

In the Midrash (Qohelet Rabbah 11:2) we find: "Give a portion to seven," (Ecclesiastes 11:2) this refers to the seven days of Sukkot, "or, even to eight" (Id.) refers to Shemini Atzeret. And the verse concludes: "For you do not know what evil shall be upon the earth" (Id.)

This Midrash begs interpretation, and our master explained it with reference to the verse (Proverbs 16:4): "The Lord has made everything for its purpose," which means that every character trait, whether good or bad, is required for some purpose and brings a human being to perfection. While He has made everything for His purposes, but only in its proper time, it is incumbent on every individual to understand and discern under what circumstances a particular trait, or its negation, is appropriate. For example, the very disgraceful trait of cruelty must, as we know, be employed for the commandment of circumcision to be fulfilled.

It can readily be seen that the seven days of Sukkot represent the trait of true friendship and togetherness, with all being attached to one another, great and small, the righteous and the not-so righteous. The Torah says (Leviticus 23:42): "all that are native in Israel shall dwell in booths." From here our Sages deduced that all Israel sit together in one sukkah, which means that all Israel come together, without distinction, as one. The four species, lulav, etrog, hadas, and aravah symbolize the different classes of people at different levels, and the Torah says (Leviticus 23:40): "you shall take for yourselves" (וּלְקַחְתֶּם לָכֶם), i.e., a complete taking in which all four species are taken together for a single commandment. Moreover, the multitude of sacrifices on Sukkot represent, and arouse us to await, the designated time about which the prophet said (Isaiah 11:6): "the wolf shall dwell with the lamb." However much may people differ in their beliefs, their coming together is a wonderful means by which the nation as a whole becomes a vessel that will hold a blessing. Indeed, the Sages endeavored to find an explicit verse that would teach this idea (Hosea 4:17): "Ephraim is joined to idols, let him alone." All these rituals come together as one to teach us the trait of love, affection, and friendship, to draw near the hearts that are estranged one from another so that the tent might be one. However, the Torah tells us that, immediately after this, on the eighth day (Numbers 29: 35): "On the eighth day you shall have a solemn assembly" (עֲצֶרֶת), on which day everyone puts away the four species, and returns from the sukkah into his home, and only one bullock is sacrificed. As Hazal interpret it in the Midrash, the Eternal asks us: "make me a small repast." During the seven days of the festival, our joy consisted in the unity and coming together of so many people, as if we were saying: "do we not all have one Father Who created us all?" But then the eighth day comes upon us suddenly with its commandment of "עֲצֶרֶת," the meaning of which indicates loneliness and a departure from the assembly, so that your eyes may see only your Guide. Each individual, by himself, rejoices in the Eternal, and the people become separated from one another by performing - each person according to his capacity and understanding - a service that is directed towards the Eternal alone. Socializing would defeat this purpose, and would be the opposite of what is desired in the performance of this commandment and this service.

It appears clear that the commandment of "עֲצֶרֶת" involves distancing oneself from those who are estranged, for the same reason that the Tanna said (Avot 1:7): keep at a distance from an evil neighbor, do not make yourself an associate of a wicked man, and do not abandon faith in [divine] retribution. The intent of this saying is that even if it seems to you that you will achieve some objective by associating with a wicked person, there is still a corresponding possibility that the association could lead to some greater evil in the future, and that G-d will destroy your whatever you may accomplish. Thus, the verse (Ecclesiastes 7:14): "In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider; G-d has made one day as well as the other" refers to and symbolizes the seven days of the festival during which one should be joyful. The joy in the assembly of all the people is such that our Sages tell us that even those individuals who are not usually careful to avoid ritual impurity are presumed not to impart ritual impurity during the festival. During the festival all Israel are friends. However, "on the day of adversity" (בְיוֹם רָעָה), consider and reflect upon the time and the occasion when indiscriminate association and friendship may be the source of great evil. So just as you are rewarded for coming together, so, too, will you be rewarded from separating yourself, for "G-d has made one day as well as the other." In other words, the Eternal commanded us to observe both the seven days of the festival and the eighth day as well in order to alert us to the important duty of reflecting upon both aspects of this matter.

It was to this that Midrash was referring when it commented that the verse "Give a portion to seven" refers to the first seven days of Sukkot while "or, even unto eight" refers to Shemini Atzeret, which has the opposite significance. Since you cannot know what evil may come to pass, so you must not disbelieve in retribution. This teaches us that for everything, i.e., for both joining together and for separating oneself, there is an appropriate time and place.


פְּרִי עֵץ הָדָר (ויקרא כג, מ)

The fruit of goodly trees

The Midrash (va-yikra rabbah 30:12) teaches: Just as the Scripture includes both the אתרוג, which has both aroma and flavor, and the ערבה, which has neither aroma nor flavor, so, too Israel includes those who have both Torah knowledge and goods and those who have neither Torah knowledge nor good deeds. What can the Holy One Blessed Be He do with Israel? He cannot destroy them. Instead the Holy Blessed Be He says: "let them come together in a single group and they will atone one for the other."

Just as the אתרוג has taste as well as fragrance, so Israel have among them men who possess learning and good deeds. . . . Just as the palm-tree has taste but not fragrance, so Israel have among them such as possess learning but not good deeds. . . . Just as the myrtle has fragrance but no taste, so Israel have among them such as possess good deeds but not learning. . . . Just as the willow has no taste and no fragrance, so Israel have among them people who possess neither learning nor good deeds. What then does the Holy One, blessed be He, do to them? To destroy them is impossible. But, says the Holy One, blessed be He, let them all be tied together in one band and they will atone one for another.

Our master explained how these words of our Sages "they will atone one for another" can be understood. For is it not the opposite? Should not the joining together of those without Torah knowledge or good deeds magnify their guilt? Moreover, the words of our Sages appear to contradict their interpretation of the verse (Song of Songs 6:7) "your cheeks are like halves of pomegranate" to mean that even the least of you are as full of good deeds as a pomegranate.

However, this Midrash may be understood according to the Gemara in Hulin 7b. R. Phineas the son of Yair said: "The people of Israel are holy. Yet there is he who desires [to benefit others] but has not the means; whilst another has the means but has not the desire." The Tosaphot explain that they are called holy, because the one that has but does not want to invite a guest does so nevertheless out of shame. And what was once said by a holy person concerning why the saying begins in plural (the people of Israel are holy), but ends in singular (but has not the desire) is well known. For it is only when the people of Israel are brought together that they are called holy, because it is only then that the one who has the means, but not the desire, to invite a guest, does so, out of shame, nevertheless. He does the good deed involuntarily because of his attachment to another who wants to invite a guest but does not have the means to do so. Because they are together, they both are called holy. Thus, it is shame that causes the least meritorious among the people to do good deeds. But this is possible only when they are together, for they will do good deeds only when others are watching them. (See our master's explanation of the verse (Deuteronomy 33:19) "they shall call peoples to their mountains, there they offer right sacrifices" (עַמִּים הַר יִקְרָאוּ שָׁם יִזְבְּחוּ זִבְחֵי צֶדֶק) in פרשת וְזֹאת הַבְּרָכָה.)

Now the Midrash may be understood. By coming together, the people of Israel atone one for another, because even those who are like the ערבה and have neither Torah knowledge nor good deeds, will also, when they are joined together with the others, do good deeds and even assist those who would like to do good deeds but are unable to do so. Thus, this Midrash corresponds exactly with what the Sages said about the verse "your cheeks are like halves of a pomegranate" that even the least among you are as full of good deeds as a pomegranate.