From the Kabbalists
"At the end of seven years, at the time of the Sabbatical
year, on the festival of Sukkot
If you will analyze the mystical dimension of the commandment of Hakhel,
you will find that just as the Shemittah year itself is an allusion
to the 7th millennium during which our universe will revert to chaos,
so the commandment of Hakhel, which commences after completion of the
seventh year alludes to the word "la'asot" in Genesis 2,4 which
follows the report of the conclusion of the seven days of creation after
the Torah had introduced the concept of the Sabbath. We also find in Psalms
92, the hymn dedicated by David to the Sabbath, that he speaks about the
righteous who will flourish like the palm tree, (presumably after the
seventh millennium). I have already dealt with the meaning of that psalm
in connection with Genesis 2,2. The mystical dimension of the commandment
of Hakhel is that all people who exist at that time are called to appear
before the Lord, the King of the universe. This is why this commandment
had to be performed by the king. He represented the King in the celestial
spheres. He had to read from the Torah (not the High Priest). This is
reflected in the statement of the scholars of the Kabbalah who posit that
before proceeding with the creation of the universe the Lord consulted
His blueprint, i.e., the Torah. Another reason for reading from the Torah
on that occasion was to remind the people that without Torah the universe
cannot endure, just as it could not have been created without it. The
reason the site for the fulfillment of the commandment is described as
"the place which the Lord will choose," is that the Temple-site
was the place whence the universe started being created. This is the meaning
of Psalms 50,2: "for from Zion, perfect in beauty, G-d appeared."
As the sages say in Yuma 54: "the world was perfected starting with
Selected from the seven-volume English edition of The Torah Commentary
of Rebbeinu Bachya, as translated and annotated by Eliyahu Munk.
From the Chassidic Masters
The lengths to which Rebbe Chaim of Sanz went in distributing charity
amazed all those around him, especially since his own household was conducted
with frugal austerity. His generosity reached its peak on the day preceding
the Sukkot festival, in accordance with the teaching found in the writings
of Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, the holy Ari of Safed. He started by distributing
every single coin that was at hand. He then proceeded to exert himself to
secure loans from all sides, sometimes by pawning various objects. One year,
he also told his sons that he needed several thousand rubles. As soon as
they brought him the amount that they had quickly borrowed from various
wealthy householders, he distributed it all to the needy. When he entered
his sukkah that evening he said: "People are accustomed to decorate their
sukkah with all kinds of pretty ornaments. Not I, though: tzedakah - charity
is my sukkah decoration; that is what makes my sukkah beautiful!"
“The Eighth Day shall be a gathering (Atzeret) for you." [Shemini
Atzeret Torah Reading]
All the elicitations of holiness and the revelations that take place during
Sukkot are “encompassing.” On Shemini Atzeret they are absorbed and internalized.
"Rejoice and be happy in the Joy of the Torah" [Simchat Torah Prayers]
A joy that is felt by one side while the other side is morose and bitter
is not a true joy. Therefore, on Simchat Torah the relatives from both
sides have to be happy: the Jews with the Torah and also the Torah has
to take pleasure in the Jews. [Peninim]
From the Rebbes of Chabad
the Big One
There is a dimension
that applies to the lulav but not to the other three species - nannuim,
the shaking of the lulav. The fulfillment of the mitzvah involves moving all four
species to the four directions, above, and below, but only the lulav is shaken.
This dimension is further underscored by the custom of the Chabad Rebbeim, who
would shake the lulav after moving the species in each of the four directions
and before returning it to their chest. Indeed, Torah law requires a lulav to
be at least one handbreadth taller than the other species. Why? So that it can
What is the analog? Souls in the spiritual realms are described
as "standing," for they are rooted to a single level. Although they
ascend, they are considered as being on one plane because these ascents are measured.
By descending to this physical plane, and devoting itself to the observance of
the Torah and its mitzvos, a soul attains the potential to proceed, and indeed,
to do so in an unlimited manner. This potential is manifest in a Jew's shaking
back and forth during prayer and Torah study.
To cite a parallel: The Zohar
states that a Jew shakes during prayer because "the soul of man is the candle
of G-d. Just as a candle flickers back and forth because it is drawn to its source,
so too the soul shakes during Torah study. For Torah study inspires a soul and
connects it to its spiritual source.
On the surface, this shaking runs contrary
to the intellectual thrust necessary for Torah study. For the Torah must be comprehended
thoroughly, and its study involves making fine distinctions, and this necessitates
a state of contemplative reserve. Nevertheless, it is necessary to shake while
studying Torah, for this indicates that even as the Torah is enclothed in an intellectual
framework, it remains G-d's wisdom. And when a person is involved in the comprehension
of the Torah, it must be evident that the inner dimension of his activity is a
clinging to G-d.
This clinging generates the potential for unbounded progress,
for G-d is the essence of infinity. Since the ultimate clinging to G-d is achieved
through Torah study, it is Torah study that generates the potential for unbounded
progress. For this reason, the lulav, which is identified with the study of the
Torah, is shaken.
Of course, the potential for progress generated by the
Torah also has an effect on a person's observance of the mitzvos. And thus when
the lulav is shaken, the other species are also moved.
* * * *
Not only does Torah study produce the potential for unlimited
progress, this potential is also reflected within Torah study itself. There are
two manifestations of this concept:
a) A person must study Torah in a manner
that leads to an increase every day. Every day, a person must gain new knowledge.
This is the difference between the study of Torah and prayer. With regard to prayer,
one repeats the same prayers every day. With regard to Torah study, by contrast,
each day must bring an increase.
b) Our Sages state: "A person will never
comprehend the words of Torah
unless he stumbles over them." One of the
interpretations of this statement is that Torah study requires an intellectual
give and take, a process of question and answer. At first, a person has one understanding
of an idea. Later, his thinking shifts, and he sees it from a different vantage
point. And then he adopts a third perspective; thus he "moves" back
and forth. It is only after seeing an idea from all six sides, that one can truly
(Likkutei Sichot vol. 5, pp. 151-2)
Some Laws and Customs -- Chol HaMoed
- The Weekdays of the Festival
We required to honor Chol Hamoed, and to sanctify it through cessation
of labor, good food and drink, and proper clothes.
Any labor in a matter
where loss would be sustained, if the act were not done at the time - is permitted.
However, even where loss would be sustained by delay, if the particular labor
could have been done before Yom Tov, but was deliberately not done, with the thought
that it could still be done on Yom Tov, it is prohibited. If one had a certain
prohibited-on-Chol-HaMoed labor to be done, and a poor man asked to do it in order
to be able to provide for the needs of Yom Tov with the wages he would earn, it
is permitted, provided it be done in privacy.
It is forbidden to cut one's
hair during Chol Hamoed, but if one could not cut his hair before Yom Tov (a mourner,
or a prisoner), he may do so during Chol Hamoed. The washing of clothes is prohibited,
other than if they are greatly needed for the forthcoming Yom Tov, and it was
completely impossible for them to be washed Erev Yom Tov. The washing of baby
diapers is permitted.
Business matters may not be written down, except if
one fears that he might otherwise forget such details as would cause him a loss.
Friendly letters, which contain no reference to business matters may be written,
but not in one's customary manner.
One may not move from one residence to
another (unless the new apartment is in the same courtyard as the old). If one
has been living in a rented apartment and wishes to move to a residence of his
own, he is permitted to do so, for it is a joy to a person to live in a residence
that is his own.
The buying and selling of merchandise is prohibited on Chol Hamoed unless
one of the following conditions applies:
1. One needs to earn a sum in order to provide for the festival;
2. He has an opportunity to earn a much larger profit than usual, and
if he could obtain it, he would spend more than he originally intended,
in honor of Yom Tov;
3. If he should fail to sell now, he would lose even the principal. However,
the loss of profit is not considered a loss.
(based on The Book of Our Heritage)
Last year's Sukkot page
Last year's Shemini Atzeret / Simchat Torah
for more Kabbalah
insights on Sukkot