The holiday of Sukkot, along with its motifs and its mitzvot, is discussed at length along with all the other holidays in Parashat Emor. Sukkot differs from the other holidays in that it is discussed in two separate self-contained sections.

  1. Part [1]: The first description of Sukkot follows the description of Yom Kippur and Rosh HaShanah [Vayikra 23:34-36]: “On the fifteenth day of this seventh month is the Holiday of Sukkot for seven days. The first day is a holy occasion; you shall not perform any work. For seven days you shall bring an offering to Hashem. The eighth day shall be a holiday for you and you shall bring an offering to Hashem. It is a day of assembly. You shall not perform any work”.
  2. Then the Torah summarizes all of the laws of the holidays [Vayikra 23:37-38]: “These [above] are Hashem’s appointed holidays that you shall designate as holy occasions, to offer a fire offering to Hashem… apart from Hashem’s Sabbaths, apart from your gifts, apart from your vows, and apart from your donations to Hashem.”
  3. Part [2]: Then, almost as an afterthought, the Torah returns to Sukkot [Vayikra 23:39-43]: “On the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you gather in the produce of the land, you shall celebrate a holiday for seven days; the first day shall be a rest day, and the eighth day shall be a rest day. You shall take for yourselves on the first day the fruit of the citron tree, date palm fronds, a branch of myrtle, and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before Hashem for seven days … For seven days you shall live in Sukkot… in order that your descendants should know that I had the children of Israel live in Sukkot when I took them out of the land of Egypt.”

This begs the question: Why did the Torah split the laws of Sukkot into two parts? Further, notice that Part [1] mentions nothing about any of the mitzvot that are particular to Sukkot. It seems as if Sukkot is “just another holiday”, akin to Shavuot. Only in Part [2] do we see that Sukkot has more than its fair share of mitzvot: lulav, etrog, and sukkah. Why aren’t these mitzvot mentioned in the Part [1]?

Three years ago Rav Chaim Borgansky, the Rabbi of Hoshaya[1], asked these very questions and proposed a very avant-garde answer.  Rav Borgansky notes that Sukkot has a dual personality. On one hand it is one of the Three Festivals (Shlosha Regalim) along with Pesach and Shavuot. Like Pesach and Shavuot, Sukkot also serves as an agricultural holiday. But at the same time, Sukkot is undeniably a continuation of High Holidays. As an example, the motif of repentance that begins before Rosh HaShanah remains in full force until Hoshanah Rabbah, the sixth day of Sukkot. Rav Borgansky suggests that the Torah is speaking about two completely different holidays: Part [1] talks about a “Holiday of Sukkot” which immediately follows Yom Kippur, while Part [2] talks about an agricultural “Holiday of Gathering” (Chag Ha’assif). These two holidays happen to fall on the same days. While Rav Borgansky’s explanation makes a certain amount of sense, it does not address one glaring question: In Part [1] the Torah refers to the holiday as “The Holiday of Sukkot”, and yet the commandment to sit in a Sukkah does not appear until Part [2]. If the holidays in Part [1] and Part [2] are not one and the same, wouldn’t it have been more fitting to reserve the name “Sukkot” for the holiday in Part [2], in which we are actually commanded to sit in a Sukkah?

A way ahead begins with the explanation of the Rashbam. While the Rashbam is known as a pithy commentator, his explanation on Sukkot is wordy beyond words: “When you gather the fruits of your labour from the field, recall how I housed you for forty years in a barren desert. This will force you to give thanks to Hashem, the true source of your wealth, lest you think your wealth was acquired through your own energy. [Here the Rashbam points to the warning ‘Lest you say that my strength and my hand achieved for me all this wealth’]. For this reason we leave our homes and sit in temporary huts to remember how our forefathers had nothing but sand and rocks. For this reason Sukkot falls during the season in which grapes and grain are gathered from the field, to prevent people from patting themselves on the back too hard, and by doing so, from forgetting Hashem.”

Before we continue with the Rashbam, we must pause to look at the Talmud in Tractate Sukkot [11b]. Rabbi Akiva argues with his Rabbi, Rabbi Eliezer, as to the identity of the “Sukkot” in which Hashem had Am Yisrael live in during their forty-year sojourn in the desert. Rabbi Akiva explains that these were real physical huts while Rabbi Eliezer maintains that these “Sukkot” were the Divine Clouds of Glory. Referring back to the Rashbam, it is clear that he understands the verse according to Rabbi Akiva, and indeed he states this explicitly. According to the Rashbam, the holiday of Sukkot forces Am Yisrael to leave their homes and to live in the same simple huts our forefathers lived in so many years ago. This is done in order to stifle any sense of self-appreciation that might sneak up un-noticed during these days of plenty.

While all of us know what “huts” are, how many of us know what “Clouds of Glory” are? It turns out that the term “Clouds of Glory” (“Ananei haKavod”) does not appear anywhere in the Torah. Dr. Shawn Zelig Aster[2] tries to solve this puzzle by looking for verses that contain references to both the Glory of Hashem and to a cloud. One of these verses is in the episode in which Am Yisrael clamor for food [Shemot 16:10]: “It came to pass when Aharon spoke to the entire community of the Children of Israel that they turned toward the desert, and behold the Glory of Hashem appeared in a cloud.” Another verse is in the episode of Korach’s rebellion [Bemidbar 17:7]: “It came to pass while the congregation were assembled against Moshe and Aharon, that they turned to the Tent of Meeting, and behold, the cloud had covered it and the Glory of Hashem appeared”. Dr. Aster writes “These verses deal with the period of the Israelite wandering in the wilderness, and each deals with an episode of grumbling among the Israelites. As the grumbling reaches a crisis, [the Glory of Hashem] appears by means of a cloud, just as the nation is about to turn its wrath on Moshe. The appearance of [the Glory of Hashem] ends the grumbling, because it forces the Israelites to focus their attention on [Hashem’s] presence and power. On the level of the presented narrative, it shifts the reader’s focus from the Israelites’ behavior to the Divine responseIn both stories, [Hashem] provides a sign to remind the Israelites that a relationship with [Hashem] requires acknowledging our dependence on Him. The beginning of this sign is the appearance of [the Glory of Hashem] by means of a cloud: these are the [Clouds of Glory] which [Hashem] provided in the wilderness.

I suggest that both of the holidays that fall five days after Yom Kippur are called “Sukkot”. But while huts are symbolic of the Sukkot in Part [2], then the Clouds of Glory are symbolic of the Sukkot in Part [1]. While both types of Sukkot signify the recognition of our unmitigated dependence on Hashem, they emphasize different sides of the same coin. The Sukkah-that-is-a-hut accentuates our reliance on Hashem for all of our physical needs. While at times life is good and it appears that we can get along without Him, the Sukkah reminds us that He is and He has always been the source of our strength. The Sukkah-that-is-a-Cloud-of-Glory accentuates our reliance on Hashem for our spiritual needs. This is the Sukkah that must follow the soul-searching, the awe, and the spiritual elevation of the High Holidays. During this time, says Rav Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the “King is in the field”. Hashem is “out there”, searching for us, prodding us to return to Him. On Sukkot we have found our beloved, and we celebrate our reunion.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach.

Ari Sacher, Moreshet, 5775

[1] Rav Borgansky speaks in Moreshet every Hoshanah Rabbah. He is a crowd favourite.

[2] Dr. Aster teaches at Bar Ilan University. The shiur is in the YU Sukkot-to-Go of 5769.