Sukkoth – In Memoriam of Mr. David M. Warren (Menachem Dovid ben Harav Yosef Z’L)
Sukkoth, more than any other holiday, is the “Zman Simchatenu”, the time of our joy.
“Sukkoth shall be celebrated for seven days...for seven days you shall celebrate to G-d in the place of G-d's choosing... and you will be only joyous.” (Deuteronomy 16:13-15)
The Yalkut Shemoni (654) notes that only by Sukkoth “happiness” is mentioned three times. Rashi (Deuteronomy 16:15) goes even further stating, “And you will be only joyous” is not a commandment but a guarantee.
Why, among all the days of the year, does the Torah place the greatest emphasis of happiness on Sukkoth?
We have a special mitzvah to enjoy the Shabbat as Isaiah says, ““You shall proclaim the Shabbat a delight.” (Isaiah 58:13)
On Passover we commemorate the Exodus. On Shavuot we remember the Revelation at Mt. Sinai. We can understand the commandments to be happy on those holidays. (Deuteronomy 16:11)
But what is the basis for the special emphasis of happiness on Sukkoth? Is it from the Torah’s command “that your generations will know that I caused the Children of Israel to dwell in booths when I brought them out of Egypt”? (Leviticus 23:43)
According to the Yalkut Shemoni, the special emphasis of happiness on Sukkoth comes from experiencing the Shlosh Regalim (pilgrimages to Jerusalem) immediately following Yom Kippur.
Imagine how it must have been. During the First Temple period, there were 10 daily miracles in Jerusalem and another 10 daily miracles in the Temple. (Aboth D’Rebbe Nathan Chapter 35). Among them, nobody was ever injured, nobody ever stumbled, everybody was able to find lodging, and there was room for everybody in the temple courtyard. People would come to Jerusalem free of worries.
The Sforno adds that, in addition to witnessing the miracles, the people would visit the Sanhedrin (Supreme Court) and witness firsthand how the greatest scholars of the generation delved into the Torah and brought forth its treasures. (Sforno: Deuteronomy 14:23)
Commenting on the Beis HaShoevah, drawing the water for the water libation ceremony (Nisuch HaMayim) that was unique to Sukkoth, the Talmud says, “"He who has not seen the Simchat Beis HaShoevah has never in his life seen joy!" (Sukkah: 51a)
Now imagine all the above coming on the heels of having been forgiven of all our sins on Yom Kippur. Imagine the wonder, the ecstasy, the eagerness to serve Hashem.
Alas, we no longer have the Temple, we no longer have daily miracles in Jerusalem, and we no longer have Simchat Beis HaShoevah.
At the beginning of Parshat Masei (Numbers 33), Nahmanides presents a question and answer posed by Maimonides in his Guide to the Perplexed (3:50). Why does the Torah repeat the statement “And they journeyed . . . and they encamped” 42 times?
“When we notice the narratives in the Torah, which have no connection to any of the commandments, we are inclined to think they are entirely superfluous, lengthy, or repetitious; this is only because we do not see these occurrences as noteworthy. For example, the stations the Israelites made in the desert appear useless. Yet, the Torah explicitly says that the stations were written “by the commandment of G-d”. However, it is indeed most necessary that these be written. Miracles are only convincing to those who witness them; future generations are only familiar with the miracles through the account of others; future generation may consider them untrue. Miracles cannot continue for future generations. The greatest miracle in the wilderness was the forty years supply of Manna. The wilderness described in the Torah consisted of places that were remote from cultivated land and naturally uninhabitable for Man. (Numbers 20:5) G-d knew that, in the future, people may doubt the miracles. Therefore, the details of the stops that the Israelites will strengthen the fact that the only way Israel survived was through the Manna.” (Translation with the help of Dr. M Friedlander; Jews' College, London 1881 – 1907)
Yet, even without having experienced the Shlosh Regalim during the First Temple, Sukkoth remains the “Time of our Joy”. But how?
The Ralbag explains (Exodus 23:17) that the secret to happiness was not in the celebrations or the daily miracles but in the individual’s relationship to Hashem. When a person witnesses the miracles, when he sees the greatest torah scholars living Torah, delving into its deepest mysteries, when he stands in the very House of God, he will become aware of who God is and it will transform his relationship with the Almighty. Henceforth, all his mitzvoth will be materially changed because of his new understanding of whom he serves and the performance of the commandments will bring him joy.
This is the secret to happiness on Sukkoth. If we atone for our sins on Yom Kippur, occupy ourselves with the mitzvoth of Sukkoth, and delve into the Torah, it will transform our relationship with Hashem and the performance of God’s commandments will bring us joy.
If we celebrate Sukkoth in such a state of mind, “You will be only joyous.” As Rashi says, it’s guaranteed.