Adapted from the writings of the Nesivos Shalom
Rabbi Doniel Manevich
Every year on Succos, we are presented with three mitzvos:
dwelling in the succa, waving the arba minim, the four species:
lulav, esrog, myrtle and willow; and simcha, rejoicing, a mitzva
that all three of the Shalosh Regalim, the three festivals, share.
The mitzvos of succa and arba minim are well known to us. We
invest much of our time, resources and effort into them. Simcha,
however, is a more 'common' mitzva; it doesn't seem specific to
the Yom Tov of Succos, so we don't give it as much thought. But a
closer look will show us that in fact it is the very cornerstone
of Succos. It would be worthwhile for us to delve deeper into this
mitzva and appreciate what we have to gain through its fulfilment.
Each Yom Tov carries a spiritual gift with it, which gives us strength and inspiration for our service of Hashem throughout the entire year, and this gift is the essence of the Chag, the festival. One can derive this essence from the nusach hatefilla, the text of the prayer, which Chazal, our Sages, established for that festival: on Pesach we say Z'man Cheiruseinu, the time of our freedom; on Shavuos we say Z'man Matan Toraseinu, the time of the bestowal of our Torah; on Succos we say Z'man Simchaseinu, the time of our Joy.
It is self evident that Pesach is a time of freedom, for it was then that the Jewish people first were taken out of Mitzraim, Egypt, after 210 years of bondage, to become the nation that would receive Hashem's Torah. We relive this freedom every year on an individual level through the mitzvos of Pesach, which provide us with the strength to overcome our more base inclinations and free our energies for avodas Hashem, our service of G-d.
Shavuos is the commemoration of Matan Torah, and on this day every year we once again receive the gift of Torah: we are given the ability to connect with the Word of Hashem, something purely spiritual, while in this physical world.
But Succos is called Z'man Simchaseinu, the time of our joy. What is the connection between this Yom Tov and a period of joy? The succa symbolizes the Ananei Hakavod, the clouds of glory, with which Hashem encircled us during our forty-year sojourn in the desert. How does this represent Z'man Simchaseinu?
Furthermore, the Torah tells us that on every festival there is a mitzva to rejoice, as the verse says, v'samachta b'chagecha, you shall rejoice on your festival(1). If so, it would seem that Z'man Simchaseinu should apply to every Yom Tov; what is different about Succos in this regard?
To answer these questions, we must first understand a fundamental concept in "commemorative" mitzvos, which we alluded to above. When we fulfill a mitzva which is representative of a certain event in our history, it is not merely an act designed to connect us with our heritage; Hashem implants into that action the very same spiritual forces that were present at the time of the original event.
Thus, when we eat matzos on Pesach, we are not only remembering the bread our forefathers ate as they left Egypt, or remembering their affliction, we are experiencing and absorbing into our souls the force of freedom that created our nation at its outset. The mitzva carries with it the spiritual power of cheirus, freedom, which gives us the ability to free ourselves from our yetzer hara, our negative impulses.
Similarly, living in the succa for seven days is not only a remembrance of our ancestors' forty-year stay in the desert surrounded by Hashem's protective clouds. We are actually sitting in the shade of the Shechina, the Divine Presence, just as the B'nei Yisrael did when they were surrounded by the Ananei Hakavod.
The Zohar(2) alludes to this when it connects the concept of sitting in the succa with the verse in Shir HaShirim: 'b'tzilo chimad'ti v'yashavti, I have desired and sat in His shade.' The Gemara(3) also hints at this in reference to the halacha that one is prohibited to derive any personal benefit from the components of the succa, by the explaining that 'chal Shem Shamayim al hasucca', there is a manifestation of Hashem's Name on the succa.
In a sense, the succa is a semblance of the Beis Hamikdash, where the Shechina resided, and is a realisation of Hashem's desire to have a dira b'tachtonim, a dwelling-place in this world, which is an aspect of the purpose of creation. And through this dwelling, Hashem demonstrates His love for klal Yisrael by giving them an opportunity to have an intense connection with Him in this world.
Therefore, the simcha of Succos is not merely the mitzva of joyfulness shared by all three Regalim. Rather, it is the natural state of joy resulting from the feeling of closeness to Hashem, of being brought into His domain, of feeling His love for us.
Moreover, this closeness is the source of all happiness in this world. Our souls, whose source is from Hashem, yearn for their original state of cleaving to the Divine, and all our desires and aspirations stem from this yearning. When we try to fill our desires by indulgence in physicality, we are never satisfied, for the source of our sense of lack comes from the soul, and it will only be satisfied with true spiritual fulfilment: closeness to Hashem.
The Midrash(4) depicts this concept with a parable of a villager who marries a princess. As much as he tries to please her with all the delights he can imagine, they are worthless in her eyes, for she belongs to a different class altogether. Such is the case with the neshama, the soul, which is 'married' to the body. As much as one tries to please her with the delights of this world, she is never satisfied, for she is used to a different class of pleasure.
By leaving our houses and entering the tenuous shelter of the succa, we are affirming our realisation that our only true place is with Hashem, wherever he may lead us. Under His shelter, we have everything, we are rich with the endless wealth of true happiness. Without it, palatial mansions will echo with the hardness and emptiness of cold stone.
The dynamic of Hashem's love and our simcha works conversely also; the more we arouse within ourselves joy in our fulfilment of mitzvos, especially at the time following Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, the more Hashem will demonstrate His love toward us.
This can be understood by way of another parable. A king had a beloved son who rebelled and fled from the palace, wishing to be free from the constraints that his elevated status carried with it. The king was angered and commanded to remove the prince from his inheritance. In the course of time the prince realised his foolishness, and returned to his father in shame, begging forgiveness and another chance to prove himself worthy of his position. The king couldn't forget the love he once had for his son, and decided to give him another chance. The prince was reinstated to his former position. But the king remained watchful, waiting to see if his son truly deserved his royalty, or if he was merely like one of the lowly servants who feared punishment. Upon seeing the prince wear his royal garments and fulfill his royal duties with pride and with joy, the king's doubts fell away, and the bond of love was forged once again in its fullness.
Similarly, the B'nei Yisrael come to Hashem during the Days of Awe seeking forgiveness and asking for another chance to prove themselves worthy of their role in this world. Hashem, in His compassion, grants them another year of life and sustenance. But it is only when the Jew comes to Succos and fulfills the mitzvos with joy that it is clear he has truly returned and committed himself to be a prince once again. Then Hashem's love is showered upon him and he merits a true G'mar Chasima Tova, a final inscription in the Book of Life.
1 Devarim 16:14
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