Beit Midrash

  • Shabbat and Holidays
  • Sukkot
To dedicate this lesson

Succot / Simchat Torah


Rabbi Berel Wein

The solemnity and awe of the Yomin Noraim gives way to the relaxation and enjoyment of the beautiful holiday of Succot. Succot is the holiday with many symbolic rituals and mitzvoth attached to it. It revels in its beauty, in the four species and in the succah itself with its decorations and greenery. Family gatherings and chol hamoed outings contribute to the festivities of the holiday and to the sense of satisfaction and accomplishment that we feel after Yom Kippur. It is no wonder therefore that the rabbis assigned to Succot the title of "the time of our happiness and rejoicing." Even though the weather may not cooperate fully and the comforts of our home and dining room are not usually found in the succah, Jews have a great sense of enjoyment in sitting in the succah. Joy and satisfaction are not always connected to physical comfort or luxuries. Succot aims to make us feel happy on the inside, to be satisfied with our lot and to have trust and faith in the coming good year and its blessings. Great people sat in their succot even in very cold weather even though the halacha prescribed that one who suffers discomfort in sitting in the succah because of weather conditions need not do so. They said that when sitting in the succah they experienced no discomfort at all so great was their satisfaction at being able to fulfill the commandment of being in the succah on Succot. Weather may affect our moods. It does not however deaden our souls or prevent one from being inwardly satisfied and joyful.

When I was a child in my parents’ home in Chicago we lived in an apartment building where there was absolutely no possibility of erecting a succah within its precincts. I trudged with my father to the large succah that the yeshiva had built in our neighborhood. I missed having my mother at the table and the food was always cold by the time we arrived at the succah. I always wondered then why my father was nevertheless so serene and happy sitting in that large yeshiva succah surrounded by strangers and eating cold food. I made a child’s commitment to myself that when I grew up I would have my own succah. A few years after my marriage I was able to purchase a home with a back yard where I happily began to build a succah. My Jewish neighbor promptly reported me to the building department of the city of Chicago for building a structure without a building permit. Next day I went to the building department and obtained such a permit which I prominently displayed. My neighbor shouted at me that "all of this nonsense is a nuisance to him." I coolly invited him to come over and share a meal with us in the succah. He sputtered and left and never spoke to me again. That incident only fortified my resolve that come what may I would always attempt to have my own succah on Succot. The Lord has heard my request and I have had my own succah to enjoy and revel in for over fifty years consecutively. May it so continue in the future as well.

Succot concludes with the especially joyous day of Simchat Torah. Perhaps no other day of the year characterizes the relationship of the Jewish people to its Torah as does the day of Simchat Torah. Young and old, scholar and novice, the strictly observant and those who are less so are nevertheless united on this one day of rejoicing in the uniqueness of Israel that the Torah has created. The day confirms the opinion of Rabeinu Saadyah Gaon (ninth century Babylonia) that our nation is a united people only by virtue of our Torah. The virtue of Torah is that it gives our life a focus and a moral compass. It promises a future and immortality itself. It binds together disparate ethnic groups and bridges time and generations. No wonder therefore that Jews rejoice with it and are raised to the level of inner joy that requires no outside stimulus. Simchat Torah is not only the culmination of the holiday of Succot, it is the final summation of the months of Elul and Tishrei that preceded it. It is the counterpoint to our days of solemnity and gives clear meaning and purpose to our times of joy. How fortunate are we to have such a treasure that is accessible to all and eternal in its meaning and message. May the joy of the holiday accompany us throughout this new year.
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