In the Torah’s description of the festival of Sukkos, the Torah describes the obligation for Jews to dwell in sukkos – “booths” – for the entire seven days of the festival (Leviticus 23:42-43):
You shall dwell in sukkos for seven days; every native in Israel shall dwell in sukkos. In order that your generations will know that I had the children of Israel dwell in sukkos when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am Hashem your God.
For the seven days of Sukkos, a Jew is required to make the sukkah his main dwelling place. He must eat all his meals there, and, ideally, he is required to sleep there as well.
The Menoras HaMaor (Rabbi Yitzchak Aboav, Late 14th Century) explains that the underlying message of the obligation to dwell in the sukkah is to teach us place our trust purely in God. He writes (146:3-5):
...באה מצות סכה זאת ללמדנו שלא ישים אדם בטחונו בגבה ביתו וחזוקו ותקונו הטוב – ואף כי יהיה מלא מכל טוב – ואל יבטח בסיוע שום אדם – אע"פ שיהא אדון הארץ ומושל בה – אבל ישים בטחונו במי שאמר והיה העולם...
ולהעיר לאדם על זה, באה מצות סכה בזמן הזה – אחר אסיפת גרן ויקב בארץ ישראל... – לפי שבזמן הזה הוא זמן בעיטה לכל, שהאוצרות מלאים כל טוב והאדם כבר נאסף לעיר..., לפיכך צוה לצאת מביתו החזק וישב בסכה, כדי שיתעורר וישים מבטחו בשם ית' ויתן אל לבו כי כל הטוב שהגיע אליו מן היוצא בשדה, הכל בא לו ברצון ה'.... ויזכור שכל שמירת גופו וכל אשר לו מאת ה' ית' ולא יבטח באשר לו.
וגם באה מצוה זו להעיר ולהזכיר כי בסכות הושיב ה' ית' את בני ישראל במדבר ושמרם מן החרף ומן הקרח והצנה והגשמים והחום בלי בית ותקרה, ובזה יראו כי בכל דור ודור שומרם בוראם בלי בית וחומה דלתים ובריח.
The mitzvah of sukkah comes to teach us that a person should not place his trust in the height and strength of his home, or its good condition – even if it is filled with all good things – and he should not place his trust in any human being – even if he is the lord of the land and has dominion over it – but he should put his trust in He Who Spoke and the world came to be….
To bring forth this point, the mitzvah of sukkah comes at this specific time – after the grain and wine harvest in the land of Israel – for this is a time of rebelliousness for all, when the storehouses are full of all good things and one is gathered into the city…. Therefore, one is commanded to go out of his secure home and dwell in a sukkah, in order to awaken him to place his trust in God, and to take to heart that all the good that has come to him from going out to the field, it all came to him by the will of God…. And he should remember that his security, and the security of all that he has, comes from God, and he should not place his trust in his possessions.
This mitzvah also brings forth and reminds us that God had the children of Israel dwell in sukkos in the wilderness, and He protected them from the winter ice and cold, and from the rains, and from the heat, without a house or a ceiling, and through this they would see that in every generation their Creator would protect them, without a house, wall, doors, or key.
The basic message of the sukkah is our dependence on God; that He alone is the one true source of security and protection. R’ Avigdor Miller writes (A Kingdom of Cohanim – Vayikra 23:43):
In the Wilderness our fathers had no walled cities inn which to find protection from the many potential predators. Our father’s possessed great wealth that they had taken from
Egypt, and all the nations would have attempted to attack Israelto seize this wealth. But despite the fact that that our fathers possessed no fortifications or walls to protect them, and even no houses with sturdy walls, yet in their flimsy tabernacles of cloth and straw, they were more secure during these 40 years than at any subsequent time in their history. The only true security is Hashem: that is the lesson of Succos.
|Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch|
While mankind was to be taught by experience, and from its fate it was to gain knowledge about God and itself, the attainment of this aim was to be assured and furthered by a special arrangement. …There would be introduced into the ranks of nations one people which would demonstrate by its history and way of life that the sole foundation of life is God alone; that life’s only purpose is the fulfillment of His Will; and that the formal expression of this Will, specifically addressed to this people, serves as the exclusive bond of its unity.
This objective required a nation that was poor in everything upon which the rest of mankind builds its greatness and the entire structure of its life. To all appearances being at the mercy of nations armed with self-reliant might, it was to be directly sustained by God Himself, so that, in manifestly overcoming all opposing forces, God would stand revealed as the sole Creator, Judge and Master of history and nature....
Thus, this people came to constitute the cornerstone on which humanity could be reconstructed. Recognition of God and of man's calling found a refuge in this nation and would be taught to all through it's fate and its way of life, which were to serve as a manifest example, a warning, a model, a education.
For the sake of this mission, however, Yisrael could not join in the doings of the rest of the nations, in order not to sink down with them to the worship of material possessions and pleasure. It has to remain separate until the day on which all mankind will have absorbed the lessons of its experiences and the example of this nation, and will united turn toward God. Joining with Yisrael at that time, mankind will then acknowledge God as the sole basis for its existence and "as God is One, the recognition of His Name will be one." Then, "the teaching of His Law will go forth from
Zionand the Word of God from Jerusalem."
The passage of the Jewish people through the desert encompassed by the “Clouds of Glory”, with no material protection but their trust in God, marked the beginning of the role of the Jewish people as the “Light unto the Nations”, which required their elevation and separation from the nations, but which would ultimately bring all mankind to the service of God in unity.
This transition is described in Kabbalistic terms by R’ Moshe Chaim Luzzatto (d.1747) in Derech Hashem (IV:8:2):
הנה ענני הכבוד שהקיף הקב"ה את ישראל, מלבד תועלתם בגשמיות שהיה לסכך עליהם ולהגן בעדם, עוד היתה תולדה גדולה נולדת מהם בדרכי הרוחניות, והוא כמו שעל ידי העננים ההם היו נמצאים ישראל מבדלים לבדם ונשואים מן הארץ, כן היה נמשך להם מציאות הארה המשכנת אותם לבד, נבדלים מכל העמים, ומנשאים ומנטלים מן העולם הזה עצמו, ועליונים ממש על כל גויי הארץ. ודבר זה נעשה בשעתו לישראל, להגיעם אל המעלה העליונה הראויה להם.... ומתחדש דבר זה בישראל בחג הסכות על ידי הסוכה.
The Clouds of Glory with which God encompassed
Israel[in the wilderness], asides from their physical benefit, which was to shelter and protect them, also had a major spiritual effect. Just as the clouds caused Israel to be set apart and lifted above the earth [physically], similarly there was drawn a reality of illumination that dwelled only with them, separating them from all the nations and lifting them and removing them from this [physical] world itself, [so that] they were literally elevated above all the nations of the earth. This was done to Israelat that time, in order to bring them to the high level that was proper for them. … This [elevation and separation] is renewed [each year] for Israelon the festival of Sukkos through the sukkah.
Thus, the sukkah thus represents the role of the Jewish people in this world, as a distinct nation devoted purely to God, elevated and separated from the nations of the world, to serve as a model of what humanity’s relationship with God can and should be. The Jewish people, who’s very existence as a nation is a miracle, a people who’s fortunes throughout history have been clearly tied to their obedience to God’s will, testify through their existence and their fortunes to God’s dominion over history.
The prophet Zechariah (14:16, in the haftara of the first day of Sukkos) tells us that, ultimately, when mankind will come to recognize the truth of God’s dominion, then all the nations will come to celebrate Sukkos:
והיה כל הנותר מכל הגוים הבאים על ירושלים ועלו מדי שנה בשנה להשתחות למלך ה' צבאות ולחוג את חג הסוכות.
And it shall come to pass, that all who are left of all the nations that came against Jerusalem, shall go up from year to year to bow before the King, Hashem, Lord of Hosts, and to celebrate the festival of Sukkos.
In his commentary on the Haftaros, R’ Mendel Hirsch (d.1900) comments on this verse:
So we see Judaism as the religion of the future. Its truths acknowledged by all, its laws understood and kept, the general ones of humanness and morality by mankind in general, the special ones for Jews dedicating them to be the priests of mankind, by the Jews. The reign of everlasting peace will have started. All enmity, all hate of one to the other will have disappeared for by the universal recognition of God as their One King henceforth all men form one great family. And all class war will have come to an end by the knowledge and realization of the teachings of the Tabernacles Festival.