The Hidden Layer of Sukkot’s Beauty
BY RABBI JOSH HARRIS
Maintaining the high we reach on Yom Kippur can be very difficult. Just hours after Ne’ilah, we’re back to the mundane routines of our daily lives. I’d like to suggest a framework in which Sukkot is the starting point for taking the spiritual elevation of Yom Kippur and transferring it to the rest of the year.
Let’s use the first Yom Kippur in history as a blueprint. After sinning with the Golden Calf, Am Yisrael were granted atonement on Yom Kippur and then immediately commanded to build the Mishkan. Rashi explains that the root of the word kapparah, atonement, also means “wiping away” or “removal” (Bereishit 32:21). Similarly, the Siftei Chaim translates the word viduy (commonly translated to ‘confession’) as “throwing.” On Yom Kippur, we totally rid ourselves of all our sins and negative traits and come out of the day as a completely new person. That’s the awesome power of Yom Kippur. Using the blueprint of the first Yom Kippur, our immediate command as a “new person” is to build ourselves a Mishkan. How do we do that?
The Sha’arei Teshuva writes that there is a custom to increase the giving of charity on Erev Sukkot. What’s the connection between giving charity and Sukkot?
After the splitting of the Red Sea, Am Yisrael sang the words “זֶה אֵ-לִי וְאַנְוֵהוּ, This is my G-d, and I will adorn Him.” The Gemara (Shabbat 133b) offers two possible meanings for these words. One is that we must adorn ourselves before Hashem by beautifying His mitzvot – by building a beautiful sukkah, acquiring a beautiful lulav and etrog, and writing a beautiful sefer Torah. The second approach interprets the passage as “This is my G-d and I will be like Him.” The Gemara explains that a person can be like G-d by imitating His attributes (Sotah 14b). Just as He is gracious and compassionate, so too should we be gracious and compassionate.
Immediately after concluding Yom Kippur, we dive into the mitzvot of Sukkot. We build a sukkah and decorate it so that it is truly a sight to behold. We spend time selecting a beautiful etrog, looking for a fruit with a beautiful shade of yellow, with no blemishes and perfect symmetry. We search through collections of lulavim, hoping to find one as straight as an arrow, meeting all of the halachic stringencies. We do all of this in order to adorn and glorify the name of Hashem through beautifying His mitzvot. However, this is not the only aspect in our relationship with Hashem. We also must beautify our actions towards our fellow man. We do that by emulating Hashem. Yes, we can have a beautiful etrog. Yes, we can have a magnificent sukkah. But if we do not treat our fellow man in a way that emulates G-d, we have not fulfilled the entire meaning of the verse ‘This is my G-d and I will adorn Him.’ Sukkot is therefore the most opportune time to give charity. On Erev Sukkot, having invested so much time and money in beautifying Hashem’s mitzvot, we ensure that we also beautify our behavior towards our fellow man. We can have a beautiful etrog, but not at the expense of our brothers and sisters in need.
The Nefesh HaChaim explains that each person is a microcosm of the Mishkan – that each of us is tasked with making ourselves into a mini-Mishkan. This is our goal once Yom Kippur is over. We stand in shul after Ne’ilah as new people. At that moment, we take on the commandment to make ourselves into a Mishkan, to become vessels for revealing Hashem in this world. That revelation can only happen if we beautify our actions towards our fellow man as much as we beautify the mitzvot between us and G-d. Sukkot is the perfect festival to set this in motion.
Rabbi Josh Harris is the Community Rabbi at Finchley United Synagogue, London. He completed his Semicha with the Mizrachi Musmachim Program and is a graduate of the Mizrachi UK Fellowship Program. Josh and his wife Tali are also graduates of Mizrachi’s Shalhevet Leadership Program.