Seasons - Then and Now

For the week ending 15 October 2016 / 13 Tishri 5777

Succot - Utilizing the Physical

by Rabbi Chaviv Danesh
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The gemara tells us that according to Rabbi Eliezer the succah commemorates the Clouds of Glory that surrounded the Jewish People in the desert (Succah 11b). These clouds appeared for the first time in the month of Nissan when the Jewish people left Mitzrayim. The obvious question that is asked by the commentaries is: Why is the mitzvah to dwell in a succah commanded during the month of Tishrei instead of the month of Nissan, which is when the clouds appeared for the first time? (Tur, Orach Chaim 625; Vilna Gaon on Shir Hashirim 1:4)

The Midrash explains that from every part of Creation Adam HaRishon was the only one whose makeup was a mixture of the spiritual and physical worlds. His body was made from lowly dirt, while his neshama (soul) came from the highest of places (see Rashi to Bereishet 2:7). What was expected of Adam HaRishon, and what is expected of each and every one of us today, was to utilize this unique makeup through enabling the neshama to influence the body in such a way that the body also became holy. This is precisely why almost every single act that we do is dictated by halacha. From eating and sleeping, to even the act of going to the bathroom, everything is guided by halacha. This is also why, other than a handful of mitzvot, all of the 613 commandments require a physical action to be done to fulfill them. All this is meant to enable us to refine everything physical to such an extent that it will also become spiritual (see Derech Hashem 1:3:7, 1:4:4, 1:4:7).

Based on this we can begin to understand why the mitzvah of dwelling in a succah is in the month of Tishrei, although the Clouds of Glory, which the succah represents, appeared for the first time in the month of Nissan. The Vilna Gaon explains that the Clouds of Glory were removed from the Jewish People after the sin of the golden calf that took place on the 17th of Tammuz. It took nearly three months, until the tenth of Tishrei, the day of Yom Kippur, to be forgiven for that sin. The following day, Moshe Rabbeinu instructed the people to bring the different materials needed to build the Mishkan. On the 11th, 12th, and the 13th of Tishrei, the people brought their gifts, and on the 14th the materials for the construction were brought to the worksite. The Clouds of Glory made their return on the 15th of Tishrei, the first day of Succot, which is when the Jewish People finally began working on the Mishkan.

The Clouds of Glory were a sign of G-d’s love for the Jewish People. Even though the Jewish People did teshuva and were given a second chance on Yom Kippur when Moshe brought the second set of luchot, the Clouds didn’t actually make their return until the people began to build the Mishkan, which was the intermediary through which Gd’s presence could be tangibly felt in the physical world. The Jewish people’s teshuva was only completed when they began to use the physical world to create a dwelling place for the Shechina (the Divine Presence). That’s why the Clouds of Glory returned then. According to this we dwell in the succah in Tishrei because that was the day when the Clouds of Glory returned and represented G-d’s concern and love for us. It symbolically told the Jewish People that G-d was pleased with them (Vilna Gaon on Shir Hashirim 1:4).

The Cycle Repeats

This is also what we do every year during the holiday of Succot. Following Yom Kippur, the day on which we completely abstain from the physical world, is Succot, the holiday that is full of physicality. From the building material for the walls and schach of the succah to the arba minim (four species), the mitzvot of Succot all revolve around using a big spectrum of the physical world. Furthermore, the mitzvah of dwelling in the succah is also a very physical act. Firstly, the mitzvah of sitting in a succah is unusual in that it is done with the entire body. Additionally, the main mitzvah of dwelling in the succah consists of the physical acts of eating and sleeping in the succah (Orach Chaim 639:1).

The abstinence from physicality on Yom Kippur is meant to enable us to see the spiritual potential of our soul without the distortion caused by physical desires. However, this is not meant to be an end goal. On Succot we are meant to take the inspiration we received by being in touch with our souls, and begin to apply it to our bodies — and the physical world at large. Through all this we take the teshuva of Yom Kippur one step further by uplifting the physical world through utilizing it correctly, thus fulfilling the reason for which we were created.

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