Beit Midrash

  • Shabbat and Holidays
  • Sukkot
To dedicate this lesson

A Harvest of Good Deeds

A home can guard a person from the cold and the rain, but the principal danger a person faces in life is forgetting his purpose. By sitting in a sukkah, by reflecting on life’s transience, a person is granted the most profound security possible.


Rabbi Eliezer Melamed

1. Sukkot – An End-of-the-Year Celebration
2. All Is Vain?
3. Sukkot – Preparation for Winter
4. Taking the Sukkah Apart

Sukkot – An End-of-the-Year Celebration
The Sukkot festival is a harvest festival on which farmers joyfully finish ingathering the year’s produce. And like farmers, every Jew should, on Sukkot, make an account of all of the good things he or she has done during the course of the year.

However, since it may be assumed that we have all sinned during the year, we must first cleanse and purify ourselves during the High Holidays, the days of repentance. After repenting and learning from out mistakes, we may sum up the year from a more positive standpoint and rejoice in all of the good deeds we have had the privilege to perform during the past year.

All Is Vain?
The Ashkenazi custom is to read the Book of Ecclesiastes on the Sabbath that falls during Sukkot. And according to the custom of the Gaon of Vilna it should be read from a parchment scroll and with the pronunciation of a blessing (Mishnah Berurah 490:19).

What was it that caused Kohelet to reject the importance of all worldly matters, to the point where he says, "Vanity of vanities…all is vain"? Is there no value to wisdom, honor, wealth, beauty, and human endeavor?

Rather, all of these things, when they are not accompanied by fear of Heaven, are of no value. They are empty. And therefore they vanish as quickly as they appear. It appears to a person that if he could attain more of these qualities he would be happier, but, in practice, King Solomon, who was blessed with exceeding wisdom, honor, and splendor, teaches us that all of these things, when taken alone, are worthless. Only when a person attains fearful reverence for God do all of these matters take on their true worth. "The end of the matter, all having been heard: fear God and safeguard His commandments, for this is the whole of man"

Sukkot – Preparation for Winter
Before winter begins, before we recluse into our home to take shelter from the cold and the rain, we must remember God, Who gives us life and everything we need to exist. This is one of the ideas that underlie the sukkah – that a person consider his transience in the world. We leave our permanent home and take shelter in a makeshift dwelling, and this should lead us to contemplate God’s providence in the world.

A person who does this will indeed be better protected, for while a home can guard one from the cold and the rain, the principal danger a person faces in life is forgetting his purpose, being influenced by negative views. Therefore, by sitting in a sukkah, by fulfilling this holy commandment, a person is granted the most profound security possible. And this is what a person should keep in mind with winter’s onset.

May it be God’s will that the sukkah’s spiritual protection bring peace into our homes, tranquility between husband and wife, between parents and children, between all Jews, between all of our varied desires, between Israel and the Almighty. May God cause His presence to dwell among us, and may we merit building the holy city of Jerusalem and, in its heart, our Holy Temple.

Taking the Sukkah Apart
Many people are uncertain about the status of their "skhakh" (palm fronds) and "arba’at haminim" (four species) after the festival: Must they continue to be treated respectfully, or do they return to being just like any other foliage? In other words, is it permitted to throw "skhakh" and "arba’at haminim" into the garbage after the festival?

To begin with, it should be pointed out that there is a basic difference between "tashmishei mitzvah" (religious articles, or literally, "commandment articles") and "tashmishei kedusha" (sacred articles).

"Tashmishei kedusha," such as tefillin, mezuzot, and Torah scrolls, continue to possess sanctity even after they have aged and become worn, for they contain holy names. They must therefore be put in a "genizah" (special depository), and from the genizah they are taken away and buried.

However, "tashmishei mitzvah," such as prayer shawls, "skhakh," and "arba’at haminim," possess no intrinsic sanctity and their importance derives entirely from the fact that we use them to perform commandments.

Therefore, the law is that it is permitted to throw "tashmishei mitzvah" into the garbage, and the Shulchan Arukh rules accordingly (Orach Chaim 21:1) that torn prayer shawl tassels may be thrown into the garbage because this is a commandment-fulfilling article that has no intrinsic sanctity. And the same is true regarding "skhakh" and "arba’at haminim."

However, the Shulchan Arukh states that such articles should not be used in a dishonorable manner, i.e., a prayer shawl should not be used as a floor rag. And the Rema adds that such articles should not be discarded of in a disgraceful place.

Therefore, one should not throw the "skhakh" and "arba’at haminim" into the garbage with other sordid refuse, because this desecrates the commandment. But it is permitted to place them on the ground next to the garbage cans. If the palm fronds remain until Passover there is a laudable custom to use them to burn the remaining chametz on the eve of the festival.
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