…that your generations may know that I caused the Children of Israel to dwell in Booths. (Lev. 23:43)

What is the significance in the order of the year? Why does Sukkot, the festival of Booths come directly after Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur?

Rashi on this verse says that the "sukkot", literally "booths", referred to here are really the Clouds of Glory that protected the Children of Israel when they came out of Egypt. If so, asks Rabbeinu Asher (known by the name of his famous compendium of Jewish Law, the "Tur") why don't we celebrate Sukkot in the month of Nissan in the Spring, when the Children of Israel were protected from the blazing heat of the desert by the "Clouds of Glory".

Knowledge is one of the requirements for properly observing the festival….

The Tur answers that if people go out into sukkah booths in Nissan, when the weather is warm and dry, it will not seem very unusual. But if they go out of their homes to dwell in booths in the month of Tishrei (as we do today), when the weather is beginning to become colder and damp, then it will be obvious to all that he is doing so not for his own comfort, but to serve G‑d.

The Chidushei HaRim gives another answer in the tradition of the Polish Chasidic masters: When the Torah, in parashat Emor, describes for us the details of the Festival of Sukkot, it instructs us to dwell for seven days in sukkah booths "…in order that future generations will know that I had you dwell in booths when I brought them out of Egypt". (Lev. 23:43)

The verse implies that knowledge is one of the requirements for properly observing the festival.

For a whole year, a Jew struggles with his Evil Inclination, falling time after time in transgression. Since the Talmud states that a person doesn't commit a transgression unless a spirit of folly overtakes him (Tractate Sotah 3a), the whole year long a person is as if without knowledge. Without knowledge, one is not able to properly fulfill the mitzvah of Sukkah.

Only G‑d can create a place for the one who has no place to dwell….

A true baal teshuva (repentant), after the days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is left without a place to call home. The baal teshuva is in a world of his own, a world even absolute tzadikim have no access to, as our Sages have stated, "In the place where baalei teshuva stand, not even absolute tzadikim can gain access" (Talmud Berachot 34b). G‑d, who desired that the baal teshuva become who he is, is in turn obligated to provide a place for the baal teshuva to reside. That place is the sukkah.

G‑d, is called "The Place" (in Hebrew, "HaMakom"). Even though He brought the whole world into being and there is no place in the world devoid of His presence, His place is not in the world. Therefore, only G‑d can create a place for the one who has no place to dwell. In truth, by virtue of becoming a person with no place, the baal teshuva is able to make any place in the world his dwelling.

The world exists on three pillars: Truth, Judgment and Peace. "Truth" is Rosh Hashanah, when G‑d allocates to every being what they honestly need. Yom Kippur is Judgment, the time of the principle judgment of each individual. Sukkot is Peace, when G‑d spreads out His Sukkah of Peace for the baalei teshuva. The sukkah is a physical, finite structure of boards and branches which, extraordinarily, creates a receptacle for an infinite and unlimited in-dwelling of the Divine Presence. The world of unceasing exposure to the Divine Presence is the world of the real baal teshuva. Therefore, as G‑d's presence fills the world, so does every place in the world become the dwelling of the baal teshuva.

Only after the atonement of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in the month of Tishrei, when a person is cleansed of his transgressions and has resolved to be a tzaddik from now on, does he have the knowledge to properly fulfill the mitzvah of Sukkah.

[This article was first published in B'Ohel Hatzadikim; www.nishmas.org]