I wanted to share a beautiful thought on Sukkos and this week's Parsha, from my good friend, Rav Moshe Benovitz, a rebbe at Yeshivat Reishit Yerushalayim, and the International Managing Director of NCSY. Have a great Shabbos and Chag Sameach!
There is a lot going on during Sukkos. In fact, trying to identify a single unifying theme proves to be quite difficult. Pesach and Shavuos are aptly labeled as "zman cheirusainu" and "zman matan toraseinu" respectively, and virtually all of our celebrations evolve from those points. Strikingly, Sukkos is saddled with the more generic "zman simchaseinu," and lacks both a dramatic historical anchor and a single motif. There is the ubiquitous afterglow of the Yomim Noraim, the Sukkah itself, and the powerful (yet, itself somewhat vague) imagery of the arba minim. This is before we even entertain the notions of Ushpizin, water/simchas beis hasho'eiva, and the capstone of Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah.
Despite our earlier contrast to Pesach and Shavuos, in one important sense Sukkos is not totally unique. Throughout the Shalosh Regalim there are two divergent tracks of commemoration that seem to have little to do with one another. The tension is most clearly evident in the different names attributed to the chagim. Shavuos is both "Shavuos" and "Chag Ha'Katzir" (the holiday of the harvest). The name Pesach alludes to the dramatic events of Yetzias Mitzrayim while "Chag Ha'Aviv" speaks to the agricultural phenomenon of the spring season. And while "Sukkos" hearkens back to our travels in the midbar, "Chag Ha'Asif" (the holiday of gathering the crops from the field) refers to much more mundane and modern financial concerns.
While with regards to Pesach and Shavuos, the two names capture divergent tracks, the two are not exclusive of one another. However, with regards to Sukkos, the two names actually describe two completely opposite ideas which seems to plunge the focus of the holiday into great doubt. "Sukkos" represents our leaving our homes to the unknown and insecure outdoors while "Chag Ha'Asif" relates to the secure feelings and comfort of a successful agricultural cycle. How are we to reconcile these two contradictory messages and emerge with a clear perspective and focus for this holiday?
Rav Adin Steinsaltz, in his work, "Chayei Shana," explains that the contradiction and polar opposite messages described above actually serve to demonstrate the single, unifying message of Sukkos. We must rely on God even when we are experiencing prosperity and that God must be an essential part of our lives even when things are good. As we bring in the crops and feel the comfort and success of "Chag HaAsif," we leave our homes to the insecure Succah and proclaim that we must rely and turn to God for His help even though we feel so blessed and secure. This week's parsha describes, "Vayishman yeshurun vayiv'at" (32:15) – the people of Israel will become "fattened" with success and will then reject God. Our going out to the succah and demonstrating our dependence on God just when we feel that "fattening," is our response to that verse and that concern.
Sukkos comes on the heels of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, extreme spiritual experiences which lift us to great spiritual highs. Sukkos comes and reminds us that we can never rest on our laurels and we must always seek new ways and avenues to strengthen our connection and reliance on God.
May all of us be blessed with a year of material and spiritual success and may we learn the message of Sukkos: that it is specifically at those moments of success when we must be on guard and take tangible steps to continue growing closer and closer to Hashem.