The Tur (O.C. end of 417) cites a comment from his brother, Rav Yehuda, establishing a correspondence between the three pilgrimage festivals and the three patriarchs. The festival of Pesach corresponds to Avraham, and Shavuot parallels Yitzchak. The festival of Sukkot, Rav Yehuda asserted, is linked with Yaakov. The Biblical source for this correspondence between Sukkot and Yaakov, as Rav Yehuda cites, is a verse from Parashat Vayishlach (33:17), “Yaakov traveled to Sukkot; he built for himself a house, and for his cattle he made huts [‘sukkot’].” Yaakov’s construction of “sukkot” for his cattle alludes to a certain connection between him and the holiday of Sukkot.
One common explanation of this link between Yaakov and Sukkot relates to the theme of transience and the human being’s temporary existence in this world. One of the fundamental halakhic requirements of the sukka is that it be constructed as a dirat ara’i, a temporary residence. Our residence in the sukka during Sukkot represents our residence on earth, and reminds us that our lives here are temporary. The practical implication of this awareness is the need to prioritize our acquisition of the eternal assets of Torah and mitzvot over the pursuit of material wealth, which we hold in our possession only temporarily. This message is symbolized by the Torah’s description of Yaakov as constructing “sukkot” for his cattle. Yaakov consigned his earthly possessions to temporary “sukkot,” he viewed them as transient and ephemeral. This description of Yaakov thus reflects one of the central themes of Sukkot, the concept of transience and our cognizance of the temporary nature of life.
Significantly, the holiday of Sukkot is also referred to as, “zeman simchateinu” – the festival of joy. While the obligation of simcha (rejoicing) applies on all three pilgrimage festivals, it assumes particular importance and plays an especially prominent role in the observance of Sukkot (see Rambam, Hilkhot Lulav 8:12). The awareness of the transience of life should not lead a person to despondency, or to a morbid preoccupation with the eventuality of death. To the contrary, living in the sukka must be an especially joyous experience. Realizing the ephemeral nature of our physical existence should inject a sense of meaning, direction and purpose into our lives, allowing us to experience the joy and satisfaction of personal fulfillment. We must rejoice in the opportunity we have been given to enter this world and live in the service of our Creator, and take advantage of our limited time on earth to realize our full potential. The festival of Sukkot is thus not only a reminder of life’s transient nature, but also a celebration of life’s transient nature, teaching us to rejoice in the opportunities presented to us during our limited sojourn in this world.
Originally posted on VBM
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