of Sukkot Joy
Free translation of a discourse by
the Lubavitcher Rebbe,
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson
Hol Hamoed, Sukkot 5734-1973
by Rabbi David Rothschild
Eight Days a Week
are unique because their commandment is performed physically. We eat and drink
physical substances in a sukkah. Its shade provides physical relief from scorching
sunlight. According to Maimonides, our physical wellbeing guides the ruling, "A
sukkah roof must provide more shade than sunlight." He also declares,
"A person who suffers in a sukkah doesn't have to sit there." Since
a sukkah's raison d'etre is physicality, holiness descends within
its earthly components. That in turn makes operative the Torah's decree: "A
sukkah's physicality is sanctified".
all mitzvot exhibit this quality? After all, they too are performed on objects
with clearly defined physical characteristics. What's more, the physicality of
mitzvot distinguishes them from Torah study. True, Torah isn't relegated to heavenly
realms; it is accessible to mortals and applicable to mundane affairs. Nonetheless,
even while it functions in the physical realm, "My word is like fire"
In contrast, mitzvot pertain exclusively
to physical objects: tzitzit are spun from wool and tefillin are fashioned
from leather. For this reason every mitzvah's physical object entails precise
Tanya expounds the advantage which
a mitzvah's execution gains: "A person's body energy enacts the deed. Then,
his corporal energy is sublimated into divinity. By means of this process, his
body realizes its ultimate aspiration and G-dly intent."
A second category of mitzvot, called "obligations
of the heart", relates to spirituality. The cardinal expressions of these
mitzvot are love and fear of G-d. Yet, they too are carried out with physicality
– the heart. Scripture enjoins corporal love, "You shall love the L-rd your
G-d with all your heart." (Deut.6:4) And it commands physical fear, "You
shall fear the L-rd your G-d" (Deut. 6:13). How are commandments felt physically?
Fear constricts the heart's muscle; love causes it to expand.
mitzvot incorporate degrees of physicality. Yet, the extent of that expression
differs from one mitzvah to the next. A sukkah, though, manifests physicality
in a comprehensive manner. That’s why its mitzvah is so exalted. It encompasses
the physicality of our daily life, not merely a solitary facet of the world.
then, explains why sanctity of body permeates a sukkah more than other mitzvot
objects. Even though a person has discharged his duty to eat and drink in a sukkah,
holiness continues to infuse its thatched roof and walls for the remainder of
distinction exists between the times in which a mitzvah is enacted and after it
has been completed. For example, prior to placing a phylactery (tefillin) on one's
head, the resting of supernal Wisdom (the sefira of Wisdom of the World of
Emanation) and G-d's Infinite Being (Ein Sof) are hinted to. But the Ein Sof
still hasn't shined within Supernal Wisdom. And supernal Wisdom hasn't illuminated
inside the phylactery's parchments.
the phylactery is actually donned, Ein Sof shines Infinite Light into Supernal
Wisdom. Then, Supernal Wisdom transfers the Infinite Light down into the phylactery's
four parchments. Hence, we observe a difference in the phylactery's state of being
when its mitzvah is performed. After the mitzvah has been completed, it no longer
enjoys this condition.
Kabbala draws an even finer
distinction: "There are three gradients of Divine revelation. A most diminished
revelation presides within any physical object prior to its selection for mitzvah
purposes. After it has been fashioned into a ritual object a stronger revelation
shines there. An intense illumination occurs when the object is being used for
A Sukkah, though, manifests an
extension to this principle. For, even after observing the mitzvah of sitting
there, the sukkah's holiness continues to illuminate open revelation. This
is the identical Divinity which descended when the earlier mitzvah was performed.
I Call Your Name
performing a mitzvah we recite, "Who has sanctified us with His commandments."
What does "sanctified" signify? By means of the mitzvah and its benediction,
Divinity descends upon the practitioner's G-dly soul.
verse intimates, "This is My Name eternally, and this is my remembrance from
generation to generation." (Ex.3:15). The numerical value of "My Name"
is 350. When added to the first two letters of G-d's name – yud and hei
– the tally equals the 365 Torah prohibitions. "My remembrance" equals
237. Added to the last two letters of the four-letter Name – vav and hei
– the sum corresponds to the 248 positive commandments.
recite in our Shabbat prayers, "Israel who sanctifies Your Name." Since
"Your Name" refers to the mitzvot, we sanctify the mitzvot through their
performance. Chassidus allegorizes this concept.
Jews practice mitzvot, they call out G-d's Name. When a person is called by his
name, he stops what he's doing and directs his entire being to the caller. Likewise,
through mitzvot, G-d's Essence descends into the mitzvot.
We explained the contrast between the holiness
of a sukkah and all other ritual objects. But what is the inner reason why
Sukkot are so extraordinary?
The spirituality of a
sukkah's roof descends from the cloud of smoke generated by Yom Kippur's ignited
incense offering. Only on that day did the High Priest burn incense inside the
Temple's Holy of Holies, as Scripture commands, "Once a year" (Lev.16:34).
The rising vapors have a purpose. They elicit a revelation of G-d's Holiness,
which is above and beyond our holiness.
"You shall be holy, for holy am I, G-d your L-rd" (Lev.19:2).
Midrash Rabba asks, "Are Jews really similar to G-d? Read correctly,
the verse proves they are not: 'For holy am I.' My Holiness is exalted above your
But on Yom Kippur the High Priest,
as the envoy of the Jewish People, beseeches G-d on behalf of virtually every
Jew. His supplications draw down a manifestation of the sublime "My Holiness"
upon each and every Jew for the duration of the ensuring year. And on Sukkot it
descends into a sukkah's roof.
That's why the seven-day Sukkot Festival
is referred to in liturgy, "the time of our rejoicing." An obvious question,
though, arises. On Passover, Shavuot and Sukkahs we recite in our prayers,
"festivals for rejoicing." If that's the case, why does liturgy call
Sukkot "the time of our rejoicing"?
provides a parable which sheds light on this matter. A king's son was separated
from his father in some distant land. He eventually returns home. When the lad
draws within eyesight of his father, their joy explodes in leaps and bounds.
a similar manner, we can understand the unique joy of "The time of our rejoicing".
Previously, our transgressions caused us to be far away from G-d. But following
our repentance – where misdeeds are transformed into merits – our joy is enormous.
Hence, Isaiah said, "Peace, peace, for the far and near" (Isaiah
57:19). Talmud interprets the verse
as, "The distant which becomes close."
are the mechanics of this Yom Kippur-Sukkot interplay? At first, our Yom Kippur
Divine service elicits the higher G-d from our lowly position below. Subsequently,
G-d reveals His aspect of "My Holiness", which is beyond "your
holiness." His Infinite Light rectifies all the blemishes and defects created
by our sins. All of this transpires in the midst of our ascending spirituality.
On Sukkot the vector of spirituality
reverses. Yom Kippur's incense cloud descends upon our sukkah roofs. The
term "sukkah", itself, demonstrates this concept. It is derived
from the Hebrew word for its thatched roof – skach. Sukkot' exposed descending
Infinity causes immeasurable joy. For this reason Sukkot is called – exclusive
of all other Festivals –"the time of our rejoicing."
roofs embody the lowering of "my Holiness" down to the bottommost realms.
G-d's Absolute Essence comes to illuminate even the subterranean domain of transgressions.
There, they are converted into merits. While this metamorphosis occurred on
Yom Kippur, nonetheless, at that time G-d's atonement operated while our Divine
service was projected upward. Now, on Sukkot, G-d's act is manifest inside a motion
What's the upshot of this U-turn of revelation?
G-d's Holiness permeates physicality to a greater extent than through any other
mitzvah. This, then, is the ultimate explanation why the very leaves of a sukkah
roof (from Scripture) and its walls (from the sages) possess sanctity of body.
The identical phenomenon occurs
regarding the four species of foliage. Infinite Light enters their physicality
to a greater degree than other ritual objects. As previously discussed, we rejoice
on Sukkot since G-d's Absolute Essence – attained on Yom Kippur – descends below.
Its primary revelation takes places when we lift the four species in the execution
of their mitzvah.
Torah commands, "You shall take
for yourselves on the first day the fruit of a beautiful tree, the branches of
date palms (lulav), twigs of plaited tree and brook willows; and you shall
rejoice before G-d your L-rd, for a seven day period" (Lev.23:40). The verse
conveys that a sukkah's Divine revelation in physicality is also manifest
in the four species. What's more, they exhibit this in a more pronounced fashion.
Scripture instructs, "You shall dwell in Sukkot for a seven-day period"
(Lev. 23:42). However, a sukkah encompasses
us from all sides. G-d's Light, while near to us, remains transcendent.
morning (except on the Sabbath) during the Sukkot Festival, we enter our Sukkot,
take the four species in hand, and pronounce their benediction. The cluster is
extended outwards in six directions and then drawn toward our hearts. What does
that accomplish? The lulav's straight rod directs the sukkah's Encompassing
Light down into inwardness. Infinity becomes grasped, contained and absorbed.
Holiness is drawn into the physicality of the four species.
What's intrinsic to the four species that
prompted G-d to choose them to download His Infinity? Each one openly displays
unity. Unity connotes the opposite of division. An entity's sensation of self
separates it from G-d. But when it is egoless, its true reality – G-d's enlivening
Light – becomes apparent. The object and G-d are one and the same: its state of
unity with G-d is revealed.
Verily, every physical
object is continuously brought into existence by G-d's Light. However, G-d encumbers
our faculty of sight. For, should His Infinite Light be exposed, finite reality
would burst. Intellectually, we can understand how an object can't possibly fashion
itself. Upon reflection, we can discern the Baal Shem Tov's teaching, "The
Hebrew letters of the Creation Narrative are forever operative. They perform the
three-phased operation of continuously bringing into existence, enlivening and
sustaining virtually every created entity." This perception, though, is relegated
to the intellect. When we gaze at objects, we only see their physicality.
Scripture calls lulavs "branches
of date palms". Talmud reveals the word "branches" (kapot)
is read aloud with a different vowel – kafut, which translates as "bound
together." A single lulav branch consists of multiple leaves. And each
leaf can be split into two more. Nonetheless, they are joined together to fashion
what appears as a single unity. Relative to its created state a lulav is divided
into numerous leaves. This reflects the quality of separation. But due to the
revelation of G-d enlivening light in a lulav, its leaves are joined together
A similar phenomenon is manifest in the myrtle
branch, which the Torah calls "twigs of plaited tree." It has numerous
sets of three leaves. Talmud informs, "Each set of three sprouts from a single
branch." Its physical appearance also portrays unity.
willow leave has neither taste nor fragrance -- bereft of "spirituality in
physicality." It symbolizes rudimentary physicality. Nonetheless, its state
of unification with G-d is clearly visible. Willow trees grow together in groups.
And Talmud notes their Aramaic term is "brotherhood."
the etrog, a Midrash teaches, "Since it is written first in the four-species
verse, it is superior to the others. Etrogs possess both taste and fragrance."
Talmud imparts, "Etrogs dwell on trees from year to year." An etrog
bears antithetical climatic conditions: cold, heat, summer, winter etc. Talmud
adds, "It requires three years to mature." And three years establishes
legal fact. In addition, an etrog doesn't only survive varying climate, its
growth is augmented by them. And that diversification doesn't merely help it develop;
rather, it affects the etrog to become "beautiful." And the etrog's
beauty serves as an example for the other three species, which likewise should
be of the finest quality.
Each of the four species
exhibits the concept of unity in an observable manner. That's what empowers them
to draw the sukkah's Encompassing Light down into internality.
The happiness of "the time of our rejoicing"
exclusively occurs during the Festival of Sukkot. It comes on the heels of our
prior remoteness from G-d wrought by transgressions. But on Yom Kippur we drew
close to G-d. For, then our misdeeds were transformed into merits.
describes this metamorphosis as, "The conversion of darkness into light and
bitterness into sweetness." Darkness itself becomes light. Returnees to Judaism
manifest this principle. Talmud relates, "The righteous cannot attain the
level of returnees."
Yom Kippur's sublime revelation
of G-d's Essence descends into the sukkah's roof. Its absorption into physicality
is so comprehensive that the sukkah's components acquire sanctity of body.
This expresses the metaphysical metamorphosis of reality: the locale of darkness
becomes light. And that's what produces the incredible joy of the Sukkot Festival.
The assimilation of Infinity culminates on
Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah. That' why our Divine service on Simchat
Torah is to dance with our feet. This expresses ultimate unity; in dance,
all Jews are equivalent.
The Oral Torah requires understanding
and comprehension. On the other hand, a person is credited with learning by merely
reading the Written Torah's script, irrespective of his ignorance. Still, the
words must be enunciated in speech. But on Simchat Torah, its mitzvah is accomplished
by dance. Even distinguished Torah sages fulfill their Divine service by dancing
with their feet.
joy extends to the entire year. This is similar to the operative nature of the
month of Tishrei. Tishrei is regarded a "general month" because
it influences every day of the ensuing year. Correspondingly, Sukkot's joy continues
May G-d bless each individual with life
as Solomon said, "In the light of the King's countenance is life" (Proverbs
16:15). What's more, G-d should supply the Delight, which originates from His
realm of "Life of Life." On Yom Kippur we attained this aspect. King
David refers to Yom Kippur as, "To sustain them in famine" (Psalms 33:19).
On that day we are sustained by fasting. This connotes Absolute Delight – abstracted
above our bodily need. It corresponds to the Resurrection, when bodies will be
animated directly by G-d's Light.
Joy breaks all boundaries.
It should bring about the coming of Messiah. Micah the prophet promises, "The
one who breaks forth will go before them; they will break forth and pass through;
they will go out through the gates; the king will pass in front of them, with
G-d at their head" (Micah 2:13). Messiah will come, redeem and bring us upright
to our land. This will happen in the immediate future.
David Rothschild, a resident of Safed, is the founder and editor of Nefesh Magazine.]