Commentary for First Days of Sukkot
It was resolved in the upper chambers of the house of Nithza in Lod: Regarding every law of the Torah, if a man is threatened, "Transgress, lest you be killed," he may transgress to avoid being killed... as it is written (Leviticus 18:5), "[Keep My statutes and My laws, which man should do and] live by them" — not die by them... except for idolatry, arayot (incest and adultery), and murder [for which a person must give up his life rather than transgress]...
When Rav Dimi came, he said: This applies only if there is no tyrant's decree [whose purpose is to uproot the Jewish faith]; but if there is a tyrant's decree, one must incur martyrdom rather than transgress even a minor precept. When Ravin came, he said in Rabbi Yochanan's name: Even without a tyrant's decree, it was only permitted in private; but in public one must be martyred even for a minor precept rather than violate it. What is meant by a "minor precept"? Rabbah the son of Rav Yitzchak said in Rav's name: Even to change one's shoe strap (from Jewish to Gentile custom).
(Talmud, Sanhedrin 74a)
The festivals are "callings of holiness" (mikra'ei kodesh), in the sense that each is a landmark in time at which we are empowered to call forth the particular holiness or spiritual quality imbedded within it.
On the first Passover, for example, G‑d granted us the gift of freedom. On the first Shavuot, He gave us the Torah; on Rosh Hashanah, G‑d became king of the universe; on Yom Kippur, we received the gift of teshuvah; and so on. But freedom, wisdom, awe, joy, peace, and the other divine gifts granted in the course of our history are constant needs of the soul; they are the spiritual nutrients that sustain her in her journey through life. G‑d embedded these qualities within the very substance of time, and set "appointed times" at which they can be accessed. Each year, when we arrive at the juncture of time where a particular spiritual quality has been embedded, we are granted the ability to access it once again.
The special mitzvot of each festival are the tools with which we "call forth" the "holiness" of the day: eating matzah on Passover unearths the gift of freedom, sounding the shofar on Rosh Hashanah calls forth its quality of awe, and so on with all "the appointed times of G‑d."
(The Chassidic Masters)
A king was traveling through the desert, and his son, the crown prince, thirsted for water. But instead of dispatching a horseman to fetch water from the nearest town, the king ordered a well to be dug at that very spot and to mark it with a signpost.
"At the present time," explained the king to his son, "we have the means to obtain water far more quickly and easily. But perhaps one day, many years in the future, you will again be traveling this way. Perhaps you will be alone, without the power and privilege you now enjoy. Then, the well we dug today will be here to quench your thirst. Even if the sands of time have filled it, you will be able to reopen it if you remember the spot and follow the signpost we have set."
This is what G‑d did for us by establishing the festivals at those points in time when He initially granted us the gift of freedom on Passover, joy on Sukkot, and so on.
The word sefirah, "counting", also means "illumination." On each of the forty-nine days of the Sefirat HaOmer ("Counting of the Omer"), we refine, develop, and illuminate another of the forty-nine traits of our soul.
(Rabbi DovBer, the Maggid of Mezeritch)
On Rosh Hashanah it is inscribed, and on Yom Kippur it is sealed: How many shall pass on, and how many shall be born. Who shall live, and who shall die; who in his time, and who before his time. Who by water, and who by fire; who by sword, and who by beast; who by hunger, and who by thirst; who by earthquake, and who by plague. Who shall rest, and who shall wander ... Who shall be impoverished, and who shall be enriched. Who shall fall and who shall rise...
(from the Rosh Hashanah prayers)
On the eve of Rosh Hashanah, all things revert to their primordial state. The Inner Will ascends and is retracted into the divine essence; the worlds are in a state of sleep, and are sustained only by the Outer Will. The service of man on Rosh Hashanah is to rebuild the divine attribute of sovereignty and reawaken the divine desire, "I shall reign," with the sounding of the shofar.
(Pri Etz Chaim)
[The sages say:] Yom Kippur atones only for those who repent. Rabbi [Judah HaNassi] says: Yom Kippur atones whether one repents or one does not repent.
(Talmud, Shevuot 13a)
On Yom Kippur, the day itself atones... as it is written, "For on this day, it shall atone for you."
How [does one fulfill] the mitzvah of dwelling in the sukkah? One should eat, drink, and live in the sukkah, both day and night, as one lives in one's house on the other days of the year. For seven days a person should make his home his temporary dwelling, and his sukkah his permanent dwelling.