Pesach represents the love of G-d for his people. Sukkot represents the love of the people for G-d." - Rabbi Jonathan Sacks ZT"L
Many years ago, I was watching an episode of “The People’s Court” with the late Judge Wapner. It was about a lawsuit presented by a person who lived on Malibu beach. His issue was with his Jewish neighbour who decided to erect a “hut,” during this time of year. The “hut,” he claimed, blocked his view of the ocean.
In his ruling, Judge Wapner gave the defendant one week to remove the “hut.” Everyone was satisfied with his decision.
Naturally, being Jewish, Judge Wapner knew the reason for erecting the “hut.” He knew that the suspicious “hut” is called a “Sukkah.” Having been raised in an orthodox home, he was aware of the commandment calling upon us, Jews, “Speak to the people of Israel, On the fifteenth day of this seventh month and for seven days is the Feast of Booths (Sukkot) to the Lord.” (Vayikra-Leviticus 23:34).
Now that we know the commandment, let us take it one step further and provide the reason for celebrating the Holy Day. The answer is provided in Vayikra 23:43,
“So your descendants will know that I had the Israelites live in temporary thatched huts when I brought them out of Egypt. I am the Lord your G-d.”
Clearly, Sukkot, just like Pesach, commemorates the Exodus from Egypt. As the Torah tells us, throughout the wanderings in the desert, Am Yisrael was living in huts or sukkot.
Some believe that since both Pesach and Sukkot commemorate the same event, the Exodus from Egypt, they should be celebrated at the same time. After all, it could be much more pleasant to have a Seder outdoors, in the Sukkah, during Springtime when Pesach occurs, than in the Fall when Sukkot takes place.
The question as to why Sukkot is observed separately and why it was set to take place at this time of year, Fall, engaged many Jewish scholars.
Rabbi Yaakov ben Asher, also known as “Baal Haturim,” explains that during the spring and summertime, many people tend to sit under an awning or in a shade to protect themselves against the rays of the sun. Had we built Sukkot during Pesach, we would not have been able to discern as to whether we sit there for the sole purpose of performing a Mitzvah or merely for our own pleasure. However, when the rain starts and people generally seek cover in the comforts of their homes, we elect to go out and sit in the Sukkah to demonstrate that we perform G-d’s commandment.
The Vilna Gaon offers another explanation. He believes that that Sukkot is the time when the clouds of reverence returned to wrap Am Yisrael after they were removed subsequent to the sin of the Golden Calf. The Gaon asserts that soon after his descent from Mount Sinai, Moshe decreed the building of the Mishkan. Upon commencement of its construction, there was reconciliation between G-d and Am Yisrael and the clouds returned. The Holy Day of Sukkot was solemnized to commemorate that moment in our history.
In my opinion, there is an educational component in separating Pesach and Sukkot on the Hebrew calendar. As mentioned above, a golden thread runs through these Holy Days. On both, Torah charges that we should stress the importance of teaching our children and our future generations the significance of freedom from the house of bondage. On Pesach, we are commanded, “And you shall tell your son in that day,” (Shemot, Exodus 13:8-9). A similar decree, as we saw above, is given regarding Sukkot, “So your descendants will know…” A lesson of such immense prominence needs to be reinforced and repeated lest we forget it. Spacing its review every seven months, which is the span of time between the two Holy Days, is one way to ensure its absorption and retention.
The late Rabbi Sacks, quoting Rabbi Akiva, offers yet another explanation as to why Sukkot is celebrated in the Harvest time. According to him, the answer lies in the prophecy of Jeremiah who states,
“Israel is holy to G-d,
The first fruit of His harvest.” (Jeremiah2:2)
Just as during Sukkot, “the Israelites celebrated their harvest,” states Sacks, “so G-d celebrates His – a people who, whatever else their failings, have stayed loyal to heaven’s call for longer, and through a more arduous set of journeys, than any other people on earth.”
Hoping and praying for better days.
Am Yisrael Chai 💖