The Rambam (hilchos lulav) notes that although it is a mitzvah to rejoice on all the festivals, there was an additional celebration in the Temple on Sukkos.
What is the reason for this?
It is observed that sometimes a person experiences feelings of worthlessness. During Yom Kippur he resolves to be good, to improve, and now he is apprehensive that he may not be able to uphold his promises. He recalls that even in previous years he pledged to do better and he was not totally successful. A feeling of despair overwhelms him, and he feels unproductive.
The festival of Sukkos is a lesson especially for the outcasts and losers. What is a sukkah? Often its walls are constructed of debris – boards or planks of wood that have been discarded – and the covering is made of twigs and stalks. The Talmud in sukkah comments that the holy name of Hashem dwells even in the sukkah which is built from debris. In fact, the sukkah is a sanctified structure and it is forbidden to use it during the days of Sukkos for any mundane purpose. One may not even remove a piece of wood from the structure to use it for an ordinary purpose because the board is holy.
From this we learn that anyone, even an individual who is shunned or undervalues himself, can become sacred when he resides together with Hashem and His Torah. Similarly, we learn (Devarim 30:4), “If your dispersed will be at the ends of heaven, from there Hashem will gather you …” Even if a person has become distant from Torah, a spiritual spark still burns within him; Hashem will round up that spark and draw him back in.
The Sfas Emes expounds that in the time of the Temple the Jewish people would remain in a state of apprehension as they waited to see if the red string tied to the horn of the sa’ir l’azazel (the sent-away goat) turned white, indicating that their sins had been forgiven.
We can imagine the outpouring of prayers, the heart-rending tears and devotion that preceded the manifestation of their atonement. It is harder to envision the joy and elation that erupted when the outcome was positive. In fact, one of the names of the Bais HaMikdash is Levanon, alluding to the “whitened” sins of the Jewish nation.
What is the “red string” in our day, when there is no Temple? How do we know if our sins have been forgiven on Yom Kippur?
The Sfas Emes tells us that Sukkos after Yom Kippur is our red string. A person who is not content, whose comfort is disturbed on Sukkos, demonstrates that he is not spiritual and continues to be earthly. His thread remains red. However, a person who is jubilant during these days, and does not feel challenged at all, should know that his thread has turned white.
That is the power of Sukkos; it permeates the person with joy in every situation.
We also learn in the Talmud (sukkah 29a) that if it rains during Sukkos and one cannot sit in the sukkah especially on the first night, it is comparable to a servant who comes to pour wine for his master, and the master pours a jug of water in his face. If one lit candles on Chanukah and they were extinguished, or one did not bake the matzos properly for Pesach, we do not find an equivalent rejection. Why do we only find this observation with regard to Sukkos?
Because Sukkos is a test of the person’s commitment. It assesses whether he is willing to fulfill the mitzvah of sukkah in any situation and disregard the challenges or he remains strongly connected to the materialistic world.
In Yerushalayim there is an esrogim center, established by the vaad harabbanim, where any esrog purchased there can be inspected by the rabbanim to ensure their kashrus. A Jew who had finally been able to emigrate from Russia joined the other buyers and selected three sets of the arba minim – three esrogim, three lulavim, with hadassim and aravos – for himself and his two boys. He then took them for inspection to one of the rabbanim.
When the rav looked at the first esrog he commented that he had never seen such a beautiful esrog in his life. He even leaned over to show it to the other rabbanim seated with him, who were likewise amazed. The yid then extended the second esrog he had selected, which was similarly praised for its beauty, as was the third esrog. The rabbanim were astounded and asked how he, among all the thousands who came to the center, had been so successful in acquiring such outstanding esrogim.
The man shrugged his shoulders, and then showed the rabbanim the lulavim. They too were extraordinarily perfect, as were the hadassim and aravos.
Once again, the rabbanim remarked that so many would pay any amount to find such impeccable arba minim, yet they were unsuccessful. How had he managed to secure three such perfect sets of arba minim?
After some thought, the yid explained. “I lived in Russia for many years and during that time it was extremely difficult to fulfill many of the mitzvos. Every year I would pray to Hashem: Master of the world, I have not been privileged to perform the mitzvos I so desire to fulfill. Please help me leave this country so that I can go to Israel.
“Hashem helped me, and I made aliyah. Now that Chag HaSukkos is coming, I knew it was time to buy the arba minim. However, I don’t know any of the halachos, and I don’t know what to look for. I raised my eyes to Heaven and prayed: Answer me, Hashem. Help me find arba minim that are kosher and mehudar. I took these three sets in my hand and brought them to you for inspection.”