1. The Cycle of the Month of Tishrei
2. Rosh Hashanah
3. Yom Kippur
5. Why is Sleeping in a Sukkah the Principle Mitzvah of Sukkoth?
6. From the Individual to the Nation as a Whole
7. Shemini Atzert
The Cycle of the Month of Tishrei
In the ending of the tractate of Yoma Rabbi Akiva praises Am Yisrael. The praise is directed towards those who achieve purification after Yom Kippur. Rabbi Akiva says "Joyous is the nation of Israel- before who are you purified, and who purifies you? Your father in heaven purifies you, as it is stated 'I will throw upon you pure water and you shall be purified from all your uncleanness.' The words used are "mikva Yisrael Hashem", and just as a mikva purifies the impure, so does Hashem purify Israel." (Yoma 8th Perek, Misna 9). As we can see the purification is two sided: 1) Before who are you purified is directed to those who seek to purify themselves to a greater and greater extent beginning with Elul, continuing on through Rosh Hashanah, the ten days of tshuva and until Yom Kippur. 2) However, who purifies you to the inner depths of your soul is Hashem- "Your Father in Heaven." So it is every year.
This lesson is based upon the lecture given by of Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook on the 13th of Tishrei 5735.
The Arizal brings down that the holidays of the month of Tishrei -Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot-are intertwined. The connection between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is not difficult to understand being that Rosh Hashanah is the day of judgment and Yom Kippur seals this judgment. Nevertheless, how does one see the connection throughout the whole month of Tishrei? In order to fully understand this concept we need to first examine the order in which Hashem set up the holidays, and they affect us individually and as a nation.
The basic mitzvah connected to Rosh Hashanah is the blowing of the shofar. The Gaonim and the Rishonim decided that the essence of the mitzvah is not the shofar being blown but rather hearing the sounds of the shofar. This is a passive mitzvah. There is no need to get up and do something to perform this mitzvah, rather one just needs to passively listen and hear. There are almost no other mitzvoth like this. Even the reading of the Shema requires one to speak as well as hear. In contrast to the mitzvoth of Pesach when one eats matzah and recounts the exodus from Egypt, the mitzvah of hearing the shofar is a positive commandment that doesn't involve any form of action. Nevertheless, this mitzvah in itself fills our whole being and greatly affects our souls, more that can be imagined.
Immediately following Rosh Hashanah begins the ten days of tshuva culminating with Yom Kippur. The essential mitzvah connected to Yom Kippur is "It shall be to you a Sabbath of solemn rest, and you shall afflict your souls" (Vayikkra 23, 32). The Rambam calls the halachot of Yom Kippur the halachot of refraining from daily activities during the ten days of repentance. This day releases us of our human confinements. One does not worry about the mundane acts of eating, drinking and other physical acts, but rather concentrates on the spiritual. We rise above our basic human nature. On Yom Kippur we raise our level of spirituality from passively hearing the shofar to taking part in a complete rest from the our physical desires and needs. The day requires of us to refrain from actions and to nullify physical connection to this world. Once we have risen above the complex physical reality, we can attain a more truthful perspective, devoid of complications and inaccuracies. It is therefore appropriate to confess sins on this day "because this day atones and purifies you from all your sins before Hashem who purifies you." We stand before Hashem on Yom Kippur and the result is purification.
From the passivety of Rosh Hashanah to the denial of human physical needs and desires during Yom Kippur, we arrive at the Holiday of Sukkoth. "You shall sit in booths seven days: all that are born in Yisrael shall sit in booths: that your generations may know that I made the children of Yisrael to sit in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt" (Vayyikra 23, 42-3). The Gemorrah explains that the actual meaning of sitting means to dwell. In other words, one has to make the sukkah his home for the seven day period. One will eat, sleep, drink and pass the hours in his sukkah just as he does in his home. The obligation to eat in the sukkah actually involves only the first day of Sukkoth (when it is required to eat a kzayit of bread in the sukkah) and doesn't include the eating of small snacks, such as fruit, on the remaining days. Such leniencies, however, do not apply to the mitzvah of sleeping in the sukkah. The Gemorrah in Nedarim explains that if one vows to not sleep for a period of three days then the court is obligated to punish him for making an unnecessary vow, which he mostly likely will not be able to fulfill. This idea can be applied to the sleeping in the sukkah for seven days, for one can not say that he will not sleep for seven days. Even more so that if one should fall asleep, he has no control over for how long he will actually sleep. This is not the case with eating, whereby one does have this control. Hence the mitzvah of sleeping in a sukkah is more stringent than that of eating in the sukkah.
Why is Sleeping in a Sukkah the Principle Mitzvah of Sukkoth?
After fulfilling the passive mitzvah on Rosh Hashanah and spiritually elevating ourselves on Yom Kippur, we arrive at Sukkoth which brings us to an even higher spiritual plateau by commanding us to sleep in the sukkah. We fulfill this positive mitzvah while we are in an unconscious state. How can this be possible? This phenomenon enables us to understand the awesome power of the G-d of Israel. Am Yisrael fulfills the mitzvoth and attains a certain level of spirituality to the best of human capabilities and then Hashem continues the process of elevation. Consciousness and comprehension are no longer a necessity for the fulfillment of the mitzvah. Am Yisrael is, thereby, one with Hashem and a revelation of His Divine name. Sukkoth teaches us that Hashem's ways are beyond human comprehension. Thus, when we arrive at Sukkoth we elevate ourselves by "sitting in the booth as if you are dwelling in it" i.e. sleeping in the Sukkah, an unconscious act that is the ultimate level of fulfillment of Torah and mitzvoth.
From the Individual to the Nation as a Whole
Although we have concentrated on the holidays in connection with each person on an individual basis, the individual is affected by the nation as a whole. The Mishna states that on Rosh Hashana "All the creations come before Hashem just as sheep passing before their shephard." The Gemorrah explains this passing before Hashem in two of the following ways: 1) By exiting through an opening one by one. 2) As soldiers of the house of King David. This Gemorrah may have been Rambam's source in his explanation of this period. He explains that all Hashem's creations pass before Him individually, even though we are measured as a whole and not as individuals. This is not easily understood by human standards of logic. On the one hand we are like sheep that pass through a narrow gate one by one, and on the other hand we are like the soldiers of King David, the army of Israel, whose value is measured as a whole. For example, the king does not count each individual soldier in a military parade in order to find out how many soldiers he has in his army. He basis his opinion regarding the size of his army on the impression he receives from the parade as a whole. And so it is for Am Yisrael on Rosh Hashanah. Hashem views each one of us in relation to the nation as a whole.
On Yom Kippur the distinction between the individual and the whole is completely diminished.
On Sukkot this process is taken one step further as it states in the Yerushalmi "It is desirable that all of Am Yisrael will sit in one sukkah." Rabbi Eliezer expands on this as the exodus of Israel from Egypt when Hashem sat everyone under the clouds of glory. On Sukkoth the four species also represents this oneness of Am Yisrael. Like the four species, each individual is necessary to complete the make up of the nation as a whole and for the nation to function and perform the mitzvoth. Within all of our individual sukkahs this light of happiness of the whole nation of Am Yisrael radiates and the tremendous life giving force of the Divine Presence emanates.
On the holiday of Shimini Azeret, we reach a fourth level of worshipping Hashem. This holiday does not involve the performance of any specific mitzvah. We have no need for this holiday for we have already reached a oneness with Hashem and yet, Hashem still requests from us to linger on for one more small meal. The end of the cycle of reading the Torah culminates on Shmini Azteret and thus is befitting for this day. Torah is the source of our existence and the foundation for our intimate being. This greatness is revealed for the individual and the nation during the month of Tishrei and climaxes with the end of the reading cycle of the Torah on Shmini Azteret. May it be the will of Hashem that all of us merit to live our personal lives as a complete expression of this message for Am Yisrael throughout its generations.
Joyous is the nation of Israel- before who are you purified, and who purifies you?