“I stood between the L-RD and you at that time, to declare unto you the word of the L-RD.” – Deuteronomy 5:5, JPS 1917 Tanach
Of the esrog and lulav, it is written, “And ye shall take you on the first day the fruit of goodly trees, branches of palm-trees, and boughs of thick trees, and willows of the brook, and ye shall rejoice before the L-RD your G-d seven days” (Leviticus 23:40, JPS). Yet, when we make the beracha (blessing) before shaking the esrog and lulav, we only refer to the lulav. That is to say, out of the four species that are taken in one’s hands and shaken in all directions, we only say a blessing over the lulav.
The lulav represents our connection to heaven and earth. When we shake the lulav in the four directions, this represents north, south, east and west. When we shake the lulav and esrog above and below, these refer to heaven and earth. Why does the lulav represent our connection to heaven and earth? The lulav, symbolic of the spine, and the middah (character trait) of uprightness, or righteousness, may be understood as representative of Moshe, who was an intermediary between H’Shem and B’nei Yisrael. “I stood between the L-RD and you at that time, to declare unto you the word of the L-RD; for ye were afraid because of the fire, and went not up into the mount” (Deuteronomy 5:6, JPS). Thus, so too, the tzaddik olam, the Holy One of Israel.
“Look to yourselves,” we would like to say to others, when we see others casting blame upon people, institutions, and society at large. Yet, for the sake of our own benefit, we should not avoid “looking toward ourselves.” The Ten Days of Awe, for all intents and purposes, are a time of increased reflection upon our faults, errors, and sins, with the aim of bringing these into the light, and asking forgiveness. Additionally, on Yom Kippur, our atonement is sought through even more intense prayer, and H’Shem willing, bestowed upon us, so that we can begin the new year with the renewal of our souls, having been cleansed through a sincere teshuvah. Thus, our inward focus on improving ourselves, is rewarded by H’Shem, in acknowledgment of our efforts to change from within; and, having been relieved of our guilty conscience, we can experience the joy of Sukkot.
“Let us search and examine our ways, and turn back to the L-RD.”
“And on the second day [of Sukkot] ye shall present twelve young bullocks, two rams, fourteen he-lambs of their first year, without blemish; and their meal-offering and their drink-offerings for the bullocks, for the the rams, and for the lambs, according to their number, after the ordinance”
– Numbers 29:17-18, JPS 1917 Tanach
There are subtle hints, that are contained within the passage, whereof the offerings for the days of Sukkot are found. Regarding the phrase, “and their drink-offerings”, the word departs from the singular usage found in other verses. Other variations include v’niskeyhem (v. 31), spelled with an extraneous mem; and un’sacheyha, with an additional yud; also, k’mishpatam (v.33) with an extra mem. “These variations yield the three superfluous letters mem, yod, and mem, from veniskeiheM, unsakhEha, and kemishpataM, which together spell the Hebrew word for water [MaYiM]” (Taanit 2b:14, sefaria.org). Thus, through these clues, the Torah infers the requirement of the water offerings to accompany the other offerings on these days.
The water-offerings are known as Simchat Beis HaShoavah, Celebration of the Place of Water-Drawing. “Whoever did not see the rejoicing of [this water drawing ceremony] never saw rejoicing in his lifetime” (Mishnah: Sukkah 5:1). This refers to the rejoicing that occurred during the water drawing ceremony at the Temple, each and every day of Sukkot. This was the only time that water was poured out upon the mizbeach (altar). The Talmud associates this ceremony with a greater implication of a messianic nature, “Why is the name of it called the Drawing Out of Water? Because of the pouring out of the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit), according to what is said: ‘With joys shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation’” (Isaiah 12:3). As is written elsewhere, confirming the pouring out of the Ruach: “I will pour out My spirit upon all flesh” (Joel 3:1, JPS 1917 Tanach).
And Rabbi Ḥiyya bar Abba also said that Rabbi Yoḥanan said: Had there been left open a crack so much as the size of small sewing needle in the cave in which Moses and Elijah stood when G-d’s glory was revealed to them, as it is written: “And it shall come to pass, while My glory passes by, that I will put you in a cleft of the rock” (Exodus 33:22), and: “And he came there to a cave…and, behold, the L-rd passed by” (I Kings 19:9–11), they would not have been able to endure due to the intense light that would have entered that crack, as it is stated: “For no man shall see Me and live” (Exodus 33:20).
As Shabbos approaches, I am fretting. It’s still within the grace period, before lighting the candles; so, it’s not like I’m committing a terrible aveirah (sin) by writing these words for a potential blogpost. It is such in life that hindsight is golden, and upon discerning the nature of a festive meal outside, underneath a sukkah, for lunch on the Second Day of Sukkot (Wednesday), I am concerned that I went above and beyond what I should have permitted for myself, in disregard of many Covid safety protocols that I had established for myself.
And, now, a simple stye in the eye is causing me to wonder whether this is the result of contracting the dreaded coronavirus. It would serve me right, if that were the case; because even my Yiddishkeit standards faltered at the table, for example, when I took part in a l’chayim, for no particular reason. That is not the way of a sincere chassidishe l’chayim. Guilt, regret, and mild worry, are some of the negative feelings that I now harbor as sunset approaches. L’chayim, indeed.
This kind of joy is not worth the trouble that it will bring, as is referred to in psalms, that only uz (then), that is when Israel is fully out of galus, should joy be overflowing (see Psalm 126). Therefore, a vain l’chayim, will only bring empty joy. For those wondering what I am talking about, drinking a l’chayim (a bisel of schnapps) should only be in respect to giving a brief dvar on Torah, for the aliyah of a departed soul, a healing (go figure on this one), or a simcha (good news). Not, simply drinking a l’chayim in order to drink a l’chayim. Shabbat shalom.
“With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.”
– Isaiah 12:3
The Simchat Beit HaShoeiva (Rejoicing of the Water-Drawing House), occurred during CholHaMoed (the Intermediate Days) of Sukkot. Every morning, water was poured out on the mizbeach (altar); in the evening, there would be a celebration. The water was drawn from the BreikhatShiloah (Pool of Siloam) in Jerusalem; then the water was brought in a joyous procession to the Temple. Sukkot is the only time throughout the year, that water was poured out upon the mizbeach.
What is the significance of the water-drawing, and its being poured out upon the mizbeach? Actually, both wine and water were poured out upon the mizbeach, during the NusachHaMayim (Pouring of the Water). One rendering on a symbolic level is as follows: the red color of the wine may be said to represent judgment, while the water represents chesed (mercy).
Therefore, in continuation of this analogy, when seeking atonement for our sins on Yom HaDin (the Day of Judgment), and Yom Kippur, we ask the L’RD to show us chesed (mercy). The resultant joy of knowing that our sins are forgiven is expressed during the holiday of Sukkot. This is why the chag is also called ZemanCheruteinu – the season of our joy.
“The L-RD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light.” – Exodus 13:21, JPS 1917 Tanach
When B’nei Yisrael was seemingly ensconced at the Sea of Reeds, as the Egyptian army approached, “the angel of G-d, who went before the camp of Israel, removed and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud removed from before them, and stood behind them; and it came between the camp of Egypt and the camp of Israel” (Exodus 14:19-20, JPS). Thus protection was assured to B’nei Yisrael, sheltered by the Cloud, and illuminated by the Pillar of Fire (synonymous with the angel of G-d); yet, the Egyptians remained in darkness.
After crossing through the Sea of Reeds, the Cloud of Glory continued to shelter B’nei Yisrael in the journeys through the wilderness, and the pillar of fire continued to provide illumination at night. During Sukkot, we remind ourselves of the existential nature of these journeys, by dwelling in temporary structures known as sukkoth, similar to the makeshift tents that provided shelter from the physical elements for B’nei Yisrael in the wilderness. Yet, on another level, these structures are meant to remind us of the Clouds of Glory that sheltered the Children of Israel.
In reviewing the parashas, I was struck by the use of a word, very similar to the Hebrew word, sukkah. Both words share two common letters in their shoresh (root word), the letters shin and kof. The word sukkah, basically means, tent or booth, as per the temporary structures built in the wilderness journeys. The word sakoti means cover or covering, and is found in the following verse: “And it shall come to pass, while My glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a cleft of the rock, and will cover [sakoti] thee with My hand until I have passed by” (Exodus 33:22, JPS). So, perhaps this is at least one connection found to Sukkot in this parashas chosen as the reading.
What might this similarity imply? In the context of the pasuk (verse), H’Shem’s hand, figuratively speaking, shields Moshe from His brilliance, thereby protecting him from the overwhelming glory of H’Shem.* One might say that H’Shem’s hand serves as a temporary sukkah, encompassing Moshe, while He passes by; yet, surely, some of the brightness of H’Shem is still visible to Moses, since a hand would not serve to totally encapsulate and block the light. This is comparable to the skach, the roof of a sukkah that leaves visibility of the stars and sky above.
Moshe received a fuller revelation of H’Shem at that time; he also heard the thirteen attributes of mercy proclaimed as “H’Shem passed by before him” (34:6, JPS). These are the same attributes of mercy that are recited in the prayers for the holidays. We seek H’Shem’s mercy, not only in anticipation of forgiveness, leading up to Yom Kippur; additionally, according to the Zohar, we may still seek His mercy through repentance, prayer, and charity until the the gates are completely closed for the year’s decrees on Hoshannah Rabbah – the seventh day of Sukkot.
*According to Ibn Ezra, some commentators translate kappi (hand) as clouds. Thus the rendering is that the cloud covered Moses, in like manner as the Cloud of Glory, symbolized by a sukkah.
“On the fifteenth day of the seventh month ye shall have a holy convocation: ye shall do no manner of servile work, and ye shall keep a feast unto the L-RD seven days.”
– Numbers 29:12, JPS 1917 Tanach
The festival of Sukkot, as prescribed in Torah, included offerings for the nations for their protection from affliction. There were a total of seventy bulls offered over a period of seven days. This specifically designated amount of offerings corresponds to the primary nations of the world as mentioned in the Torah (Genesis chapter 10). “These seventy bulls, to what do they correspond? They correspond to the seventy nations” (Sukkah 55b; sefaria.org).
In the future, all of the nations will be required to worship in Jerusalem (it is likely to presume that they will send delegates). This is a sign of the Messianic Era, when the Messiah will reign from Jerusalem. “And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations that came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the L-RD of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles [Sukkot]” (Zechariah 14:16, JPS).
“And many peoples shall go and say: ‘Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the L-RD, to the house of the G-d of Jacob; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the L-RD from Jerusalem.”
“Speak unto the children of Israel, saying: On the fifteenth day of this seventh month is the feast of tabernacles for seven days unto the L-RD.” – Leviticus 23:34, JPS 1917 Tanach
We are commanded to dwell in sukkoth (booths) for a seven-day period, as a commemoration of our dwelling in sukkoth –temporary structures –while wandering in the desert for forty years. During this time spent travelling from one place to another, the Children of Israel were protected by the Clouds of Glory that sheltered them from the heat of the day; the Pillar of Fire at night provided illumination for B’nei Yisrael, as well as warmth.
The sukkoth [booths] that we build at this time of year are meant to remind us of the temporary structures in the wilderness wherein our ancestors dwelt. According to some commentators, these structures built between Yom Kippur and Sukkot, wherein we either dwell in, or, at least, have meals within, symbolize the Clouds of Glory that served as a shelter from the elements. Thus, it is the schach – the thatched roof – in particular, that reminds us, that in actuality, it was G-d’s presence, manifested as the Clouds of Glory that protected us, above and beyond what these structures could provide.
When we dwell in sukkot for seven days, we are demonstrating our trust in H’Shem. These fragile dwellings serve not only to remind us of our past journeys in the desert; rather, also, as a personal reminder to seek G-d as our refuge. When we are troubled by the nisyanos (challenges) of Olam HaZeh (This World), we may find relief in H’Shem’s offer of protection for those who seek Him.
“For He concealeth me in His pavilion [sukkah] in the day of evil; He hideth me in the covert of His tent; He lifteth me upon a rock.” – Psalm 27:5, JPS 1917 Tanach
“On the fifteenth day of the seventh month ye shall have a holy convocation: ye shall do no manner of servile work, and ye shall keep a feast unto H’Shem seven days.”
– Numbers 29:12, JPS 1917 Tanach
The festival of Sukkot, as prescribed in Torah, included offerings for the nations for their protection from affliction. There were a total of seventy bulls offered over a period of seven days. This specifically designated amount of offerings corresponds to the primary nations mentioned in Genesis (Sukkah 55b). In the future, all of the nations will be required to worship in Jerusalem (it is likely to presume that they will send delegates). This is a sign of the Messianic Era, when Moshiach will reign from Jerusalem.
“And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations that came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the L-RD of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles [Sukkot].”
– Zechariah 14:7, JPS
“And many peoples shall go and say: ‘Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the L-RD, to the house of the G-d of Jacob; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the L-RD from Jerusalem.” JPS