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Questions and Answers on the Torah Reading of Sukkot

Questions and Answers on the Torah Reading of Sukkot


"בחמשה עשר יום לחדש השביעי הזה חג הסוכות. ביום הראשון מקרא קדש כל מלאכת עבדה לא תעשו. אך בחמשה עשר יום לחדש השביעי...תחגו את חג ה' שבעת ימים ביום הראשון שבתון... ולקחתם לכם ביום הראשון פרי עץ הדר..."
“On the fifteenth day of this seventh month is the festival of Sukkot... on the first day is a holy convocation, you shall not do any laborious work.... But on the fifteenth day of the seventh month... you shall celebrate G‑d’s festival... The first day is a rest day... You shall take for yourselves on the first day the fruit of an etrog tree....” (Vayikra 23:34-35,39-40)

QUESTION: 1) Why is the mitzvah of celebrating Sukkot repeated twice? 2) Why in the first pasuk does it say “lachodesh hashevi’i hazeh while in the second the word “hazeh” is omitted? 3) Why only in the second pasuk is there mention of the taking of the four species? 4) Why in the first pasuk does it say, “You shall not do any laborious work” whereas in the second it simply says, “Shabbaton” — “a rest day”?

ANSWER: From the festival of Pesach one can determine on which day of the week all the festivals of that year will take place. This rule is known as ."א"ת, ב"ש, ג"ר, ד"ק"

"א" — the day of the week when the first day of Pesach occurs will be "ת" — the same day as Tisha B’Av.

"ב" — the second day of Pesach will be "ש" — the same day of the week as Shavuot.

"ג" — the third day of Pesach will be "ר" — Rosh Hashanah.

"ד" — the fourth day of Pesach will be "ק" — the day of Kriat haTorahSimchat Torah — when we complete and start anew the reading of the Torah.

According to the Gemara (Shabbat 87b), the Jews left Egypt on Thursday. Consequently, since the first Pesach was celebrated on Thursday, the following Rosh Hashanah was on a Shabbat, and Sukkot, which is always two weeks later, was also on Shabbat. Thus, regarding the current celebration of Sukkot, the Torah says the fifteenth of this (“hazeh”) seventh month shall be Sukkot. Since it occurs on Shabbat, the Torah instructs us that “any laborious work shall not be done.” When Sukkot occurs on Shabbat, the four species are not taken on that day and therefore, there is no mention of the lulav and etrog.

The second discussion of Sukkot in theparshah refers to the coming years and generations, and thus “hazeh” — “this” — is omitted. Since Sukkot is not necessarily on Shabbat,the commandment of taking the four species is mentioned. It is only referred to as a day of rest but not one in which any laborious work is forbidden because on Yom Tov one is permitted to do work connected with the preparation of food necessary for the festival (see also pg. 106).

(ויקהל משה, ועי' לע"ל ע' 106)

"אך בחמשה עשר יום לחדש השביעי באספכם את תבואת הארץ תחגו את חג ה'. בסכת תשבו שבעת ימים"
“But on the fifteenth day of the seventh month when you gather in the crop of the land, you shall celebrate G‑d’s festival for a seven day period. You should dwell in booths seven days.” (23:39)

QUESTION: Why, when we gather in the harvest of the land, are we commanded to dwell in sukkot?

ANSWER: The sukkah is referred to as a dirat arai — temporary dwelling place — and it has a roof through which one can see the stars. A person is required to leave his permanent abode and move into a sukkah, so that it is impressed upon him that our real security is provided by G‑d in Heaven. Without Him, our strong “fortresses” with their bars and gates are of no avail.

One who brings home the produce of his land may become arrogant and think that he is wealthy, able to sustain himself, and no longer dependent on Hashem. Through the mitzvah of sukkah such thoughts are dispelled. The sukkah reminds the individual that his affluence and success are only temporary and that he is entirely dependent on the blessing of Hashem.

(כלי יקר)

"בסכת תשבו שבעת ימים...למען ידעו דרתיכם כי בסכות הושבתי את בני ישראל בהוציאי אותם מארץ מצרים"
“You shall dwell in booths for seven days...So that your generations will know that I caused the Children of Israel to dwell in booths when I took them out of the land of Egypt.” (23:42-43)

QUESTION: Why is the festival of Sukkot connected to both the time of harvest and the Jews’ dwelling in sukkot during their sojourn in the wilderness?

ANSWER: The message of the sukkah is two-fold: When the Jews lived in Eretz Yisrael, worked the land, and prospered, there was a danger that they would begin to think that it was their strength and wisdom that earned them their wealth. Consequently, when they gathered their crops and their success brought them into a jubilant spirit, Hashem commanded that they dwell in sukkot to teach them that life on this earth is temporary and that there are no strong “fortresses” that we can build for ourselves. The sukkah is covered with sechach, through which one can look up and see the heavens, alluding to the fact that our abodes and successes are temporary, and our security and wellbeing is dependent on Hashem in the heaven above.

The trials and tribulations of exile create the danger that the Jews, G‑d forbid, will suffer disillusionment. Therefore, Hashem gave the Jewish people the festival of Sukkot, “So that your generations will know that I caused the Children of Israel to dwell in booths when I took them out of the land of Egypt — and just as I protected them then and ultimately brought them to safety, so too, will I be with the Jewish people wherever they will be and ultimately bring them Mashiach and cause them to sit in the sukkah made from the skin of Livyatan.” (Livyatan is the largest sea creature; Hashem will make a meal from it for the righteous in the Hereafter [See Bava Batra 75a].)

(ילקוט אליעזר)

* * *

In view of the above, that Sukkot is celebrated for two reasons and conveys a two-fold message, it is understood why the festival is known as Chag haSukkot” — in the plural.

"למען ידעו דרתיכם כי בסכות הושבתי את בני ישראל בהוציאי אותם מארץ מצרים"
“So that your generations will know that I caused the Children of Israel to dwell in booths when I took them out from the land of Egypt.” (23:43)

QUESTION: Rashi explains that the “booths” are the “Ananei Hakavod” — Clouds of Glory — that enveloped the Jewish people in the wilderness. When the Jews were in the desert, they ate manna from heaven and drank water from a well which accompanied them on their travels. Why do we celebrate a festival to commemorate the Clouds of Glory and not for the manna or the well?

ANSWER: Hashem took the Jewish people out of Egypt with the intent of bringing them toEretz Yisrael immediately, but they ended up traveling through the desert for 40 years. Since Hashem planned the itinerary and chose the desert route, it was incumbent upon Him to provide the Jewish people with food and water, which are otherwise unavailable in the desert. To smooth the roads and protect them from the scorching heat, He had to provide the clouds which enveloped them.

However, in addition, the Jewish people were also surrounded with Ananei Hakavod — Clouds of Glory. These were intended to show His love for His chosen people and were not something strictly necessary. In order for future generations to appreciate the uniqueness of the Clouds of Glory (see Rashi), we commemorate them through celebrating the festival of Sukkot.


"למען ידעו דרתיכם כי בסכות הושבתי את בני ישראל בהוציאי אותם מארץ מצרים"
“So that your generations will know that I caused the Children of Israel to dwell in booths when I took them out of the land of Egypt.” (23:43)

QUESTION: The word “ki” seems to be superfluous. Could not the verse have said “shebasukkot” — “that in sukkot”?

ANSWER: According to halachah (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 633:1,8), the walls of a sukkah may not be higher than twenty amot — cubits — (approx. 35 ft.) so that the sechach will be visible to the eye. A sukkah must also be a minimum of ten tefachim — handbreadths — high (approx. 33 inches).

The word “ki” (כי) is a remez hint — to these two halachot. The numerical value of the chaf is twenty, alluding to the height of a sukkah, which cannot be above twenty amot, and the numerical value of yud is ten, which alludes to the minimum height of ten tefachim.

* * *

The Ba’alei Mesorah indicate two morepesukim where the word “ki” seems superfluous. One is “vayomru lo ki (כי) barechov nalin” — “And they said, ‘No, rather we will spend the night in the alley” (Bereishit 19:2), and the other, “Ki (כי) neir mitzvah” — “For a mitzvah is a candle” (Proverbs 6:23).

Similar to a sukkah, Chanukah and a mavui — alley — have laws involving the measure greater than twenty amot and less than ten tefachim.

The law regarding a mavui is as follows: A crossbeam spanning the entrance to a mavui (in order to make it a domain in which one may carry on Shabbat may not be higher than twenty cubits. If the distance from the ground at the entrance to an alley to the top of the wall is less than ten handbreadths, placing a crossbeam over it does make it a domain in which carrying is permitted on Shabbat. (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 363:26.)

If a Chanukah menorah is placed above twenty cubits, it is invalid, and it should, preferably, be less than ten handbreadths above the ground (ibid., 671:6).

The word “ki” in the pasuk “ki barechov nalin” — “we will spend the night in the alley” — thus refers to the laws of an alley, and the word “ki” in the pasuk “ki ner mitzvah” refers to the laws of the candles of Chanukah.

(שמחת הרגל להחיד"א - לקוטי בשמים)

"כי בסכות הושבתי את בני ישראל בהוציאי אותם מארץ מצרים"
“That in booths I caused the Children of Israel to dwell (sit) when I took them out from the land of Egypt.” (23:43)

QUESTION: The Jewish people traveled throughout the wilderness, making 42 stops till they arrived in Eretz Yisrael. In lieu of, “ki basukkot hoshavti” — “That in booths I caused to dwell” — should it not have said, “baSukkot holachti” — “In booths I led”?

ANSWER: The sukkot in the pasuk refers to the Clouds of Glory, which surrounded the Jewish people throughout their journey in the desert en route to Eretz Yisrael. In reality, the Jews never traveled in the conventional sense: The encompassing Clouds of Glory transported them from one stop to the other while they were sitting in their places.


"אך בחמשה עשר יום לחדש השביעי באספכם את תבואת הארץ תחגו את חג ה'. בסכת תשבו שבעת ימים"
“But on the fifteenth day of the seventh month when you gather in the crop of the land, you shall celebrate G‑d’s festival for a seven day period. You should dwell in booths seven days.” (23:39)

QUESTION: In Parshat Mishpatim (23:16) it is written, “vechag ha’asif betzeit hashanah” — “the festival of ingathering [Sukkot] should be celebrated at the end of the year,” and in Parshat Ki Tissa (34:22) it is written, “vechag ha’asif tekufat hashanah” — “the festival of ingathering [sukkot] at the turn of the year.” Rashi explains this to mean “bitechilat hashanah haba’ah” — “the beginning of the coming year.”

Is Sukkot at the end or the beginning of the year?

ANSWER: Rabbi Levi says (Yalkut Shimoni, Pinchas 29): Hashem planned to give the Jewish people a yom tov every month of the spring and summer. Thus, Pesach occurs in Nissan, Pesach Sheini in Iyar, and Shavuot in Sivan. When the Jewish people sinned in Tammuz with the golden calf, Hashem canceled yamim tovim for the months of Tammuz, Av and Elul. In Tishrei, however, He gave Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot, which were really supposed to be during Tammuz, Av and Elul respectively, and also Shemini Atzeret for the month of Tishrei.

In Parshat Mishpatim, Hashem is talking about the yom tov of Sukkot, before the Jews sinned with the golden calf. At that time the festival of Sukkot was designated to be at the end of the year, during the month of Elul. The sin of the golden calf is recorded in Parshat Ki Tissa. After the sin was committed, the yom tov of Sukkot was moved up to the beginning of the new year — the month of Tishrei.

(פנינים יקרים - ספר קנה אברהם)

"ולקחתם לכם ביום הראשון פרי עץ הדר כפת תמרים וענף עץ עבת וערבי נחל"
“You shall take for yourself on the first day the fruit of an etrog tree, the branches of date palms, twigs of myrtles, and brook willows.” (23:40)

QUESTION: The Midrash Rabbah (30:16) says that in the merit of performing the mitzvah of taking the four species on the first day, Hashem says that “I will be the first to reveal Myself to you and take revenge for you from the firstEisav — of whom it is written ‘and the first [child] came out red’(Bereishit 25:25), and build for you the first — the Beit Hamikdash — of which it is written ‘A glorious throne on high from the first, the place of our Sanctuary’ (Jeremiah 17:12), and bring for you the first — King Mashiach, of whom it is written ‘The first shall say to Tzion’ (Isaiah 41:27).

Why will the fulfillment of the mitzvah of taking the four species bring Mashiach?

ANSWER: According to the Midrash (30:12), the four species represent four different categories of the Jewish people. The etrog, which has an aroma and is edible, represents the tzaddik, who studies Torah and performsmitzvot. The lulav, which only has good taste but no aroma, represents the one who is mostly involved in Torah study. The myrtle, which has aroma but no taste, represents the Jew who is involved in doing good deeds but who does not have the capability to study Torah. The willow, which has neither taste nor aroma, represents the Jew who unfortunately lacks both Torah and mitzvot.

The Beit Hamikdash was destroyed because of sinat chinam — unwarranted hatred and rivalry among the Jewish people (Yoma 9b). Taking the four species together, symbolically, expresses ahavat Yisrael — love of a fellow Jew. Hashem is telling the Jewish people that by fulfilling the mitzvah of taking the four species — excelling in ahavat Yisrael — we will merit His taking revenge on our enemies, and we will merit the rebuilding of the Beit Hamikdash and the coming of Mashiach.

(שי לחגים ומועדים)

"ולקחתם לכם ביום בראשון פרי עץ הדר"
“You shall take for yourselves on the first day the fruit of an etrog tree [lit. a beautiful tree].” (23:40)

QUESTION: What is the beauty of the etrog tree?

ANSWER: Man is compared to a tree of the field (Devarim 20:19). Many lessons are learned from trees to guide man in his development.

The uniqueness of the etrog is that on the bottom it has an ukatz — the stem by which it is connected to the tree — and on the top a pitom — stem — topped with a shoshanta — rosette blossom. Should one of these fall off, the etrog is no longer considered to be beautiful. (See Shulchan Aruch Harav, 648:17, 649:18.)

The lesson of the etrog tree is that a beautiful person is one who is connected with the past and who also has accomplishments of his own. A descendant of a fine family, who continues the family tradition, and who does not rest contented with the family’s past glories but goes forth to blossom on his own, is indeed a hadar — a very beautiful person.

* * *

Alternatively, according to the Gemara (Sukkah 35a) a unique quality of the etrog tree is that “ta’am eitzo upirio shaveh” — “the wood of the tree and the fruit have the same flavor.” Similarly, true splendor for a Jew is achieved when the taste of the tree (parent) and the fruit (child) is the same. It is the greatest source of pride and feeling of achievement for parents when the children do not merely represent a physical resemblance, but are inspired to carry on in the image of the parents spiritually as well.

* * *

Alternatively, the Gemara (ibid.) also states that the etrog is “dar be’ilano meishanah leshanah” — “it dwells on its tree from one year to the next year” (it can be left on the tree for more than one season and remain fresh). The etrog represents the Jews of ta’am — taste — and rei’ach — aroma — an allusion to Torah and mitzvot. The Jew of this category is a hadar — beautiful — when his observance of Torah and mitzvot is throughout the entire year and weathers all seasons. His attachment to Hashem remains firm in good times and in bad times, in joy and in sorrow, in poverty and in plenty.

"ולקחתם לכם ביום הראשון פרי עץ הדר"
“And you shall take for yourself on the first day the fruit of the etrog tree.” (23:40)

QUESTION: The Midrash Tanchuma (21) says that the Torah uses the word“harishon” because this day is “rishon lecheshbon avonot” — “the first in the accounting of sins.” Why are the days before Sukkot free of sin?

ANSWER: On the very day Hashem created man, He placed him together with Chavah in Gan Eden and instructed him not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. Later that same day, he disobeyed and ate the fruit of the tree, thereby committing the first sin.

There is an opinion in Midrash Rabbah (Bereishit 20:8) that the Tree of Knowledge was an etrog tree. Hence, theMidrash is saying, “You should take ‘bayom harishon’ — ‘on the first day’ — an etrog, the fruit which was rishon lecheshbon avonot’ — ‘the first with which man ever sinned.’ ”

(תכלת מרדכי)

"ולקחתם לכם...וערבי נחל"
“You shall take for yourself...and brook willows.” (23:40)

QUESTION: Why is the species which has no taste or aroma (representing the Jew who lacks both Torah study and mitzvot) called aravah”?

ANSWER: When Hashem offered the Torah to the Jews, each one of us promptly responded,“na’aseh venishma” — “we will perform and we will listen (study).” Grammatically it would have been more appropriate for each person to respond, “a’aseh ve’eshma” — “I will perform and I will listen.”

The reason for the plural response is that each Jew was in a sense saying: not only “Will I perform and listen,” but “We will see to it that other Jews do the same.” Thus, at the time of the receiving of the Torah, every Jew became “areiv” (ערב)— a guarantor — for the others. Our Sages tell us that “Kol Yisrael areivim zeh lazeh” — “All Jews are guarantors and responsible one for another (Shevuot 39a).

The word “aravah” is derived from the root word “arov” and thus implies the concept of responsibility and guarantee. Hence, the name “aravah” is an explanation and reminder that the “aravah” Jew is included because we are guarantors for him. We are obligated to assure that every Jew is fully observant.

"ולקחתם לכם... וערבי נחל"
“You shall take for yourselves ... and brook willows.” (23:40)

QUESTION: According to the Midrash Rabbah (30:12) the different species we take on Sukkot represent various categories of Jews. The willow has neither taste nor aroma and it represents the Jew who neither studies Torah nor does good deeds.

Why is the Jew represented by the willow united with the other categories?

ANSWER: Every Jew possesses a spark of G‑dliness and should never be rejected. Moreover, continued association with other more observant Jews may have a positive effect on the non-observant Jew.

The Hebrew word for willow, “aravah” (ערבה), has the numerical value of 277, which is equivalent to the numerical value of “zera” (זרע) — “children.” This alludes that even if a father does not alter his ways, he should still be accepted within K’lal Yisrael, so that ultimately when his children grow up, they will possess good “taste” and a beautiful “aroma” (Torah study and good deeds).

(עי' לקוטי מהרי"ח ח"ג ע' ק"ו)

"ולקחתם לכם ביום הראשון פרי עץ הדר כפת תמרים וענף עץ עבת וערבי נחל ושמחתם לפני ה' אלקיכם שבעת ימים"
“You shall take for yourself on the first day the fruit of a etrog tree, the branches of date palms, twigs of myrtles, and brook willows; and you shall rejoice before G‑d, your G‑d, for a seven day period.” (23:40)

QUESTION: What is the connection between the four species and rejoicing?

ANSWER: Regarding rejoicing with the four species, the Midrash Rabbah (30:2) offers a parable: Two people came before a judge, and we do not know which one was victorious. If one of them takes a palm branch in his hand, then we know he is the victor. So it is with B’nei Yisrael and the nations of the world: The latter come and bring accusations before Hashem on Rosh Hashanah and we do not know who has won. Since the B’nei Yisrael go forth from the presence of Hashem bearing their palm-branches and their etrogim, we know that they are victorious.

How does taking the four species prove that“we won”?

The Midrash Rabbah (30:12)explains that the four species represent the four different categories of Jews, from thetzaddik who studies Torah and performs good deeds to the Jew who is on the other extreme. The unification of the four species is an allusion to the fact that all Jews, regardless of their spiritual level or quality, are strongly united together. In unity there is strength and therefore victory.

The power of peace and unity is so great that even when the Jewish people sin, G‑d forbid, if unity prevails, Hashem does not rebuke or punish them (see Bereishit Rabbah 38:6). Thus, when Jews are united together with no rivalry or animosity between them, Hashem takes pleasure in them and they experience great joy.

(מצאתי בכתבי אבי הרב שמואל פסח ז"ל באגאמילסקי)


"ובחמשה עשר יום לחדש השביעי...פרים בני בקר שלשה עשר אילם שנים כבשים בני שנה ארבעה עשר ... ושעיר עזים אחד חטאת מלבד עלת התמיד."
“On the fifteenth day of the seventh month...thirteen young bulls, two rams, fourteen male lambs in their first year ... one male goat for a sin-offering, aside from the continual-offering.” (Bamidbar 29:12,13,16)

QUESTION: Why besides the daily continual-offerings and the one he-goat as sin-offering which were offered on every holiday, were there an additional one hundred and eighty-two offerings in honor of Sukkot? (Seventy bulls, fourteen rams, and ninety-eight lambs.)

ANSWER: In the Tur, Orach Chaim (417), the Beit Yosef writes in the name of his brother Rabbi Yehudah that the three festivals Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot correspond to the patriarchs Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov.

When the angels visited Avraham, he told Sarah, “Hurry! Three se’ahs of meal, fine flour! Knead it and make cakes!” (Bereishit 18:6). The visit took place on Pesach (see Rashi, ibid. 18:10), and the cakes she baked were actually matzot. Since it was Pesach, he wanted her to prepare the dough herself to guard against leavening (Alshich). Shavuot commemorates the giving of the Torah and corresponds to Yitzchak because it was heralded by the blast of the shofar, which came from the ram which was offered in his stead (Pirkei D’Rebbe Eliezer, 31). Sukkot is for Yaakov, as the pasuk says, “Yaakov journeyed to Sukkot and built himself a house and for his livestock he made shelters, he therefore called the name of the place ‘Sukkot’ ” (ibid. 33:12).

The name “Yaakov” (יעקב) has the numerical value of one hundred and eighty-two. Since Sukkot is in his honor, one hundred and eighty-two sacrifices were offered.

(פרדס יוסף החדש)

Rabbi Moshe Bogomilsky has been a pulpit rabbi for over thirty years, and is author of more than ten highly acclaimed books on the Parshiot and holidays. His Parshah series, Vedibarta Bam, can be purchased here.
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