Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The Happiness of Succos

Three times a year, Pesach, Shavuos, and Succos, a Jew is commanded to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem[1] to draw from the Holy Spirit which rested in that holy place. However, on the holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur, a Jew is not commanded to ascend to the Temple Mount, and rather is supposed to stay in his own town and pray wherever that might be. Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv explains[2] that this is because sometimes one is supposed to draw spiritual nourishment from a place, and sometimes from a time. During the festivals, one is expected to draw spiritual nourishment from the place of the Holy Temple, but on Yom Kippur, the spiritual nourishment comes from the day itself. When one sins, even if it is a small sin, that sin accompanies him and draws him to continuing sinning[3]. One sin causes another sin[4], and when one sins, other sins seem permitted to him[5]. Therefore, even if a person sinned once in his life, he has been initiated into a vicious cycle of sinning and it is almost inevitable for him to not sin again (despite free will because a sin causes an evil growth to take root inside one's soul). Therefore, the Day of Yom Kippur itself must come to cleanse one of all sins[6], so that one can stay pure and clean without being drawn into more sinning. This explains why the Talmud says[7] that there is not better day for the Jewish nation than Yom Kippur, because it is a day of forgiveness and atonement.

The happiness on Yom Kippur is a controlled happiness. The rejoicing on Yom Kippur should be a rejoicing while shaking in fear of what His judgment might conclude with, the Psalmist writes, "…And rejoice with trembling.[8]" Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv says that the verse said before Kol Nidrei on Yom Kippur Eve is a prime example of this type of rejoicing. The verse says, "The is sown for the righteous, and for those of an upright heart, happiness.[9]" The happiness in this verse refers to the happiness of one's soul on Yom Kippur because of the atonement of sins. Even the happiness of Succos is only because of the cleaning of sin, just like the happiness on Yom Kippur. The Talmud says[10] that at the Simchas Beis HaShoeivah on Succos, the pious men would dance and say that they are happy that they did not sin in their younger years because it would embarrass them in their older years, while the penitents would say that they are happy that their older years serve as an atonement for the sins of their younger years. Both groups of men would join together for the refrain of their song and agree that "happy is one who did not sin." This shows that even the happiness of Succos is because of the lack of sin which comes from Yom Kippur. The Mishnah in the end of the Tractate Yoma, which deals with the laws of Yom Kippur and the Temple services on that day, says that just a Mikveh purifies the impure; HaShem purifies Israel from their sins. This is the happiness of Yom Kippur.

In describing the commandment of Lulav and Esrog on Succos, the Torah says, "And you shall take for yourselves, on the first day, the fruit of a citron tree, branches of date palms, twigs of plaited [myrtle] trees, and brook willows, and you shall be happy in front of HaShem, your G-d, for seven days[11]." The Midrash asks[12] why the Torah calls the first day of Succos "the first day", if it is actually the fifteenth of the month, not the first (the other holidays in the same passage are referred to by their date in the month). The Midrash explains that Succos is called "the first day" because it is "the first day" for the accounting of sins. This is because from the day of Yom Kippur, when all sins are forgiven, until Succos, no one sins because each person is so busy preparing for the Mitzvos of Succos, including the Lulav, Sukkah, etc…[13] Parenthetically, Rabbi Elyashiv asks whether this reasoning applies in present times, for who is to say that they remained completely free of sin between Yom Kippur and Succos. Rabbi Elyashiv reiterates the point that the entire happiness on Succos is a result of the atonement of sins from Yom Kippur, five days earlier. This explains why in the Talmud's description of the Simchas Bais HaShoeivah, all the songs sung were songs concerning repentance and freedom from sin.

[1] Deuteronomy 16:16
[2] In Divrei Aggadah
[3] Sotah 3b
[4] Avos 4:2
[5] Yoma 86b
[6] Leviticus 16:30
[7] Taanis 30b
[8] Psalms 2:10
[9] Psalms 97:11
[10] Sukkah 53a
[11] Leviticus 23:40
[12] Tanchuma, Emor §22
[13] Yalkut Shimoni, Torah §651, see also Tur, Orach Chaim §581


Chaim B. said...

But you also have the view in Midrash that the function of sukkah is a model of galus in case on emerged chayav on Y'K and needs further kaparah.

Reb Chaim HaQoton said...

Very good. Rav Elyashiv also mentions that point in this shtikel toirah, but I didn't write it down because I couldn't understand how he ties it into the rest of what he was saying.

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