The Mitzvah of the Sukkah: Faith in G-d and His Mitzvot
We are familiar with the famous question: Why did Hashem command us to dwell in a sukkah during the month of Tishri instead of Nissan, when we actually departed from Egypt, as it is written: “That your generations may know that I made the Children of Israel dwell in booths when I took them from the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 23:43)?
The Tur (Orach Chaim 625) answers this question in the following way: Although we left Egypt during Nissan, we did not receive the order to build a sukkah at that time. This is because it was summertime, when everyone builds outdoor structures for shade. It would have therefore been impossible to know whether or not we were constructing it because of an order from the Creator. He actually commanded us to do this in Tishri, the rainy season, when most people leave their outdoors structures and live indoors fulltime. We, on the other hand, leave our homes and dwell in a sukkah at that time, thereby showing everyone that we are obeying the order of the King.
The very fact that we fulfill the mitzvah of dwelling in a sukkah during the month of Tishri, not Nissan, teaches us a great principle in serving Hashem. We know that people are constantly inundated with hardships, yet they always want to overcome them. In fact the time to overcome hardships and improve ourselves lasts all year long. How should a person go about doing this? During Nissan, the month of our deliverance, a person must remove chametz from his home (i.e., his heart), thereby coming closer to Hashem. He should then continue to elevate himself during the month of Iyar, for that is when the omer is counted, a time to work on ourselves.
If that were not enough, a person should elevate himself even further during the month of Sivan, for it is then that he receives the Torah and through it cleaves to Hashem. He continues to work on himself during the months of Tammuz and Av, since everyone wants to rectify the causes of the Temple’s destruction, sins such as Lashon Harah and baseless hatred. Above all, during Elul and Tishri, days of judgment and mercy, a person must return to Hashem, becoming pure and cleansed of all sin.
As a result of this, a person may end up becoming proud and telling himself, “I’ve corrected all my faults and now I’m complete, I’m perfect.” Such thinking may lead him to fall from the spiritual heights he has reached.
Since Hashem is merciful to us, it is precisely during this time – the month of Tishri – that we are commanded to build a temporary dwelling, to once again leave our homes and head out into a sukkah and shelter ourselves under the shadow of His wings. The sukkah is the shadow of faith (Zohar III:103a), and we are to dwell in it so that faith may once again grow in our hearts, so that we no longer succumb to trials. Furthermore, during the festival of Sukkot the Holy One, blessed be He, comes to visit people in their sukkah with the seven holy and faithful shepherds, the ushpizin. Why does this happen? It is in order for the ushpizin to pour out blessings and success upon people, since in this way they will be able to overcome every trial that assails them. Moreover, the ushpizin stand by people not only during Sukkot, but on every day of the year, helping them to fortify their Torah study, mitzvot observance, and personal work. In reflecting upon this, we see that the presence of the seven ushpizin is a sign from Hashem that all our sins have been forgiven during the month of Tishri. This is similar to a person who committed a tremendous offense against his friend, but later asks for his forgiveness. How can he know that his friend has truly forgiven him with all his heart? If his friend comes to his home with a beautiful gift, he will know for certain that he has been forgiven. The same applies to the Holy One, blessed be He. On Sukkot we invite the seven ushpizin into our sukkah, and Hashem also comes with them. This proves that He has forgiven all our sins on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. What’s more is that Hashem brings us a beautiful gift, namely faith, in order that we may believe in Him forever. By this gift we know that all our sins have been forgiven. By way of allusion, we note that the word ichaper (“He will atone”) has the same numerical value (310) as the world shai (“gift”), since the very fact of being forgiven constitutes a gift from Hashem.
For our part, we must appreciate the gifts that Hashem gives us. We must strengthen ourselves in faith, the fear of Heaven, and in Torah so as to become worthy vessels to receive such gifts. Hence on our part we build a sukkah, and not only do we build it, but we set up its posts as soon as Yom Kippur ends, as stated in Halachah (Rema, Orach Chaim 624:5). In other words, after our sins have been forgiven we demonstrate our desire to become vessels worthy of receiving Hashem’s blessings, hence we immediately start building our sukkah. This proves that we are grateful to Hashem for all the good He does for us at every moment. It proves that we are grateful to Him for having forgiven us, and that we want to come even closer to Him. This is why, immediately after all evil has been eradicated on Yom Kippur, we begin to build our sukkah. We thereby prevent the Satan from sowing its seeds in us, and we fill our bodies and souls with only mitzvot, faith in Hashem, and love. By truly acting in this way, we demonstrate our complete love for Hashem and His mitzvot.