the rigors of the holiday season, one would be inclined to take a week off and
relax. However, this is not what we do. Instead, we build clubhouses — which
don’t even have a normal roof — and live in them for eight days, while we
walk around with a date palm, a citron, myrtle branches and willow twigs. What
is the meaning of this?
the Torah, the laws of Sukkos are given with the rejoinder “You shall rejoice
on your festivals with your family etc… and you shall be joyous” (Deut.
Ch.16 Vs.15-16). Why on this specific holiday are we commanded to be joyous?
is the only Jewish holiday that is not commemorating an event that happened on a
specific day. Rather Sukkos celebrates the shelter G-d provided for us during
our forty-year sojourn in the desert, when He surrounded us with clouds to
protect us from the elements. Why now of all times?
On Rosh Hashanah we come and crown G-d
as King. Once we have done that and clarified for ourselves who G-d is, we are
ready to approach G-d, and return to Him. Once we have done that we reach a new
level: clarity. And this clarity leads to true happiness. This holiday could
have been celebrated anytime. But G-d specifically chose a time of year when we
strive to grow and leave our mistakes and pettiness behind. A time of year when
we make true resolutions to become better people. A time when we achieve
closeness to G-d like no other time. Coming off this spiritual high, we leave
our house, much like a love struck man or woman after marriage goes on a
honeymoon. We leave our house and move outside into a house with G-d. And we
place our complete confidence that, much as G-d took care of our ancestors in
the desert so many years ago, He will take care of us now. The reason we have a
roof such as we do, a temporary one, made of sticks or branches, is to remind us
of that time spent in the desert. As the verse states (Lev. Ch.23 V.43): So that
your generations will know that I caused the Children of Israel to dwell in
booths when I took them from the Land of Egypt; I am your G-d.
reason we use these four species is they are considered our weapons: The Talmud
relates we know the Jewish people have been victorious in their prayers on Rosh
Hashanah and Yom Kippur, by virtue of the fact that they walk in holding
“weapons”—the four species. How are these weapons, and in which war were
we victorious? The victory is over our evil inclination, which urges us to be
mundane, the opposite of special. The species are our weapons against this. One
of the many meanings of the four species is that they signify the four types of
Jew. The citron (esrog) which smells and tastes good, signifies the Jew who is a
scholar and performs good deeds. The date palm (lulav) which has a good taste
but no odor signifies the scholar, but without good deeds. The fragrant but
inedible myrtle branch (hadas) signifies the Jew who has good deeds but is not a
scholar, and the willow branch (aravah) which has neither taste or fragrance
signifies a Jew who sadly has neither scholarship or good deeds. But on Sukkos
we grasp all four of these species together. This signifies the unity of the
Jewish people, and the hope that through coming into contact with one another,
all will be enhanced. Even the citron which smells and tastes good, the date
palm, which has taste, and the myrtle, which has smell, are unable to complete
this commandment until they are with the willow, which has neither taste or
smell, thus teaching us there is something to be gained from every Jew.
we all merit to feel in the Sukkah as our ancestors felt in the desert while
under the protection of G-d.
Rabbi Jay Spero is the rabbi of the Saranac Synagogue in Buffalo.