Succot is the most joyous festival of the Biblical holidays.1 We refer to it in our prayers simply as zman simchateinu, the period of our happiness. Unlike the other festivals in which we include in our prayers a tie between our present celebration and a past historical event, the focus of Succot seems to be the present. It is, now, the time of our rejoicing. Of course, the holiday has a historical tie, with a connection to the nation’s forty year wandering in the desert, but rather than understanding our present holiday celebration through the lens of the past, it is the past that we seem to be called upon to understand anew through the lens of the present holiday’s joyousness. This is significant for much of Torah informs us that the best way to understand today is by acquiring the perspective of the past. We are to look at modernity through the eyes of the Torah, given to us at the historical birth of our nation millennia ago. Succot would seem to inform us of an opposite perspective, that there is also a view from today and a way of looking back at history from a perspective of the present, from even a perspective of the future. Succot tells us to look back, from today and, perhaps more importantly, from the perspective of where we are going, from the perspective of the completion of our tasks in this world.
future is indeed a dominant theme of the holiday. The haftara of the first day of the holiday concerns the End of Days
and the battle of Gog and Magog as presented in Zecharya 14:1-21. The haftara
of Shabbat Chol Hamoed covers the
same theme as presented in Yechezkel
38:18-39:16. Some may perceive the theme of joy that permeates the holiday
as a reflection of anticipation, of an expression of a future joy that we
expect speedily in the immediate future. This expression of joy, though,
questions the present. There is still a limitation on the present joy for the
needed events that must transpire in the future have not yet occurred. The End
of Days, though, also reflects a theme that can have present significance, in
fact can have present significance now without consideration of the future.
That is a theme that is reflected in the haftara
of the second day of the yom tov2
and also the haftara of Shemini Atzeret3
– the completion of the building of the first
Pesach informs us how to think and feel at the beginning of an endeavour. There is a simcha in a new beginning and a freshness in the realization of a new insight. Like a child who asks questions, we are open to new understandings and new perspectives. Succot reflects on the value of completion, of an understanding of what can be achieved and the benefit that can emerge from the knowledge of success and what this knowledge can bring to other endeavours. There is greater simcha. The different perspective can also affect our focus. Pesach is solely about the nation, about the narrowly defined group who must maintain a specific focus and not be swayed by broader goals, even broader ideals. The group that bands together to eat the korban Pesach, the Paschal sacrifice, is tight.6 This is the attitude at the beginning. Succot, with an eye on the goal, on the completion, has a universal perspective. The seventy young-bull sacrifices brought throughout the holiday represent the seventy nations of the world. 7 The nation that must be insular in the beginning must, upon also recognizing the eventual goal and the perspective of the completion, understand its goal within the world. That is the view from the future, the completion, as distinct from the view at the beginning, necessary to initiate the endeavour.
T. B. Pesachim 89b makes a most
powerful statement in declaring that the reason the Jewish nation was sent into
the Diaspora was to attract gerim,
converts. But wasn’t exile a punishment? Maharsha
explains that if the objective was to simply punish the nation, God could have
done so in a different manner; it was necessary for klal Yisrael to live amongst the nations of the world in order to
thereby spread the knowledge of God amongst these nations. Yet, exile was
clearly mentioned again and again as the appropriate punishment if the nation
did not follow the directions of Torah? There is the view of the beginning and
the view of the completion. At the initial stage, the insular nation of
Rabbi Benjamin Hecht
1 If we consider all the holidays of the Jewish calendar, we would have to ponder the question of which is more joyous, Succot or Purim. While the question itself may also need some explanation, an investigation of this issue is outside the parameters of this Insight. A connection between Succot and Purim, though, should be recognized. See, for example, Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, Horeb, Purim.
2 Melachim I 8:2-21.
3 Melachim I 8:34-9:1.
4 See, Mishna Avot 3:1. 1.
6 See, for example, Rambam, Sefer Hamitzvot, Lo Ta’aseh 126-128, perhaps, in the same vein, 123. Ibid
7 Rashi, Bamidbar 29:18.(c) Nishma, 2008
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