Pesach, Shavuos, and Sukkos correspond with three agricultural seasons. Pesach is in the spring when produce starts to fill out but is still far from ripe. Shavuos is in the early summer when produce ripens and can be harvested, and Sukkos is in early autumn when harvested produce in the fields has sufficiently dried to be gathered into the house.
Although the obligation to rejoice applies on all three yomim tovim, the Torah doesn’t mention simcha at all in connection with Pesach since farmers in the spring aren’t yet sure that their hard work has paid off. The Torah mentions simcha once in connection with Shavuos (Devarim 16:11) since seven weeks after Pesach produce is ready for harvesting. As for Sukkos: The obligation to rejoice is mentioned three times (Vayikra 23:40, Devarim 16:14-15). Why? Because the produce is now gathered in and can be fully enjoyed.
But how is this explanation found in the Midrash relevant to us today? Very few of us, after all, are farmers. Since all the Torah’s lessons are eternal, we must say that the three agricultural seasons represent spiritual ideas that are relevant to every Jew in every era, place, and occupation.
Our Sages often applied agricultural terms to Torah and mitzvos, notably in Sotah (46a) where they say, “What is the meaning of ‘fruits?’ Mitzvos.” Bearing this fact in mind, we know that the theme of Pesach is emunah, which is the foundation of a life of Torah and mitzvos. During the exodus from Egypt, we developed emunah due to the miracles G-d wrought for us. After the splitting of the sea, the Torah testifies about us, “And they believed in G-d” (Shemos 14:31).
Emunah is like produce starting to fill out but still far from ripe. Despite emunah’s fundamental importance, it is only the beginning of properly observing Torah and mitzvos. A believer, after all, can act contrary to his belief. Indeed, our Sages say (Berachos 63a), “A thief, at the opening of the tunnel [he digs to steal from a house] calls upon G-d!” He believes in G-d’s power to help him, but his belief doesn’t permeate him to the extent that he won’t steal.
On Shavuos, fruit is fully ripe and is harvested. Spiritually: On this yom tov, the Jewish people “harvested” – i.e., accepted – the Torah. Accordingly, the joy of Shavuos is greater than that of Pesach for now we can start observing the Torah. Nevertheless, it hasn’t yet been brought into our homes – i.e., it hasn’t yet become incorporated into our lives – and therefore cannot provide the greatest degree of joy.
Which brings us to Sukkos, the “Festival of Ingathering.” During the months between Shavuos and Sukkos, we have the opportunity, under a variety of circumstances, to incorporate Torah and mitzvos into our daily lives until they are no longer outside us but have become essential to, and part of, our existence.
That’s why we rejoice so enthusiastically on Sukkos, “zman simchaseinu,” which is distinguished by simcha shel mitzvah, exuberant joy of fulfilling mitzvos – first in our sukkos and with the arba minim and later with hakofos on Simchas Torah, the pinnacle of joy of this month.
We wish everyone a happy Yom Tov.
(Based on teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe)