Sukkot 5767/ October 7, 2006
the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of
“Your laws are songs for me” (Ps. 119:54)
Sukkot and the
Dr. Ronen Ahituv
Sukkot differs from the
other festivals in the very large number of additional sacrifices (Num.
29:12-34) and the emphasis on rejoicing (Deut. -15). The
Torah does not give an explicit reason for these two characteristics, but in
Then Solomon convoked
the elders of
All the men of
… The king and all
During the dedication of
These two motifs also appear, as we have seen, on the
festival of Tabernacles, celebrated each year.
In view of this, it seems that in the
time of the
To what was this great rejoicing due, and how did it find
expression? One of the
characteristics of the festivities held by King Solomon was that they exceeded
the usual boundaries. The copper
altar, the regular place for sacrifice, was too small to accommodate the vast number
of offerings (I Kings 8:64), therefore Solomon consecrated the entire
The message embedded in the depiction of the
Extending the Celebration
The idea of extending the area where sacrifices could be
offered and involving the public at large in the
Hassidim and men of action would dance before them with torches and say words of praise. What would they say? “Happy is he who has not sinned, and may he who has sinned be forgiven.” Some of them would say, “Blessed is my youth, that it has not brought shame on my old age” – these were the men of action. Others would say, “Blessed be my old age, that you may atone for my childhood” – these were those who had repented. Hillel the Elder would say, “To the place that my heart loves, there my feet lead me. If you come to my home, I shall come to your home. If you do not come to my home, I shall not come to your home, for it is written (Ex. ), ‘in every place where I cause My name to be mentioned I will come to you and bless you.’”
The Hassidim and men of
action took pride in their good deeds or in their returning to the Lord and
emphasized the gap separating them from the common fold.
Hillel, in contrast, conveyed a message
that brought the people closer to the lofty status of the people in the
Hillel’s homily concerns
associations between the sanctity of the
Two rites that involved
the public at large were held in the
In the “commandment of
willows” (Mishnah, Sukkah 4.5) the public participated in collecting
branches of willow and surrounding the altar with them.
It was generally forbidden to anyone who
was not a priest to enter the area west of the altar, but in the rite of the
willows this prohibition was waived and the entire people surrounded the
altar. In the “water libation” a
popular procession accompanied the rite of drawing water from the Shiloah
spring and bringing it to the
Priests and the Populace
These two customs, which as we have said do not appear in the Torah, seem to have expressed the popular desire to participate in one way or another in the Temple worship, thus breaking the priests’ monopoly and introducing innovations in the ways of worshipping the Lord. These innovations were not always well-received. The Mishnah (Sukkah 4.9) tells us the following tale regarding the water libation: “They would tell the one pouring the libation: ‘Raise your hands,’ because once someone poured it on his feet and all the entire people pelted him with their etrogs.”
Both the crowds of spectators watching the rite as well as the shower of etrogs they threw lent expression to active participation and involvement of the populace in the ritual and to the liberties which the people took in regard to the established rites. Opposition by several of the priests to the rite of water libation only spurred the public on to greater participation. The great rejoicing during the festival to a large extent was a result of these experiences, leading it to be said (Mishnah, Sukkah 5.1), “Whoever has not seen the rejoicing of water drawing, has never witnessed joyfulness in his life.”
A Sanctuary at Home
The people’s homes being
inspired by the Divine Presence also found symbolic expression in the religious
customs of the festival of Tabernacles.
The minimum height for a sukkah, according to the Mishnah, is ten
handbreadths. The Babylonian Talmud
(Sukkah 4b) explains the reason thus:
“Nine for the ark, and one handbreadth
for the cover (kapporet) – that gives you ten; and it is written, ‘There
I will meet with you, from above the cover.’”
The dimensions of the sukkah are
derived from the dimensions of the ark and its cover, since according to the
understanding of the amoraim, the sukkah filled the function of
the Ark of the Covenant that was in the
Also the customs of
waving the lulav are derived from the
The two loaves of bread and the two lambs for Atzeret, how were they done? The two loaves would be placed on the two lambs, and he would put his hand under them, and he would elevate it, leading it and bringing it, raising it and lowering it, as it is written, ‘that was offered as an elevation offering … and as a gift offering’ (Ex. 29:27). Rabbi Johanan said: he would lead it and bring it to Him to whom the four winds belong, raise it and lower it to Him to whom Heaven and Earth belong, … Rabbah said: likewise with the lulav.
Rabbah compared the waving of the lulav to the rules for giving the elevation offerings on the Feast of Weeks. Both with the two loaves and with the lulav, the custom of waving alludes to the Deity’s all-encompassing reign in every corner of the Earth.
Thus, in the eyes of the
Talmud, the sukkah commemorates the
Considering the significance of each of the three pilgrimage festivals, we see that each of them expresses a different sort of relationship with G-d: Passover signifies Redemption, the Lord redeeming His people from Egypt; the Feast of Weeks, which has been identified with giving the Torah, signifies Revelation of the Lord to His people, and the festival of Tabernacles, identified with extension of the notion of the Temple, expresses the presence of the Lord as Creator in every corner of the world around us and the blessing He brings us in coming to our humble abode.
 Several ideas in this article are taken from Yaakov Genack (Nagen), “Mitzvat Sukkah ba-Halakhah shel Hazal, Bein Bayit le-Mikdash,” Da’at 42 (5759), pp. 137-164.