(Copied from Sukkos 5764. -micha)
There are many mitzvos that are specific to Succos. Aside from the mitzvos we can observe today, Succah, Hakafos, and the Four Species, there are also a number that can only be kept in the Beis HaMikdosh, including the 70 Musaph cows, and Nisuch Hamayim followed by Simchas Beis HaShoevah. The Yom Tov has several names: In tefillah it is called Chag HaSuccos and Z’man Simchaseinu (the time of our joy),
R’ JB Soloveitchik frames his Jewish thought and his perspective on mitzvos about tensions between various dialectics inherent in the human condition. Conflicting truths about man that are somehow both true.
For example, people construct a society in order to better serve their needs. And yet, man’s highest calling is to serve the society, rather than themselves.
Perhaps the most classical such dialectic is the distinction Rabbi Soloveitchik draws between Adam as he is portrayed in the creation story in Genesis 1 and Adam as portrayed in Genesis 2. Adam I is at the culmination of creation. All builds up to him. He is charged “to be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth and master it.” Man the engineer and technologist, forming the world to serve his needs. Majestic Man.
In Genesis 2, we’re given a different view. From the time of his creation, Adam is in communication is G-d. “It is not good for man to be alone”, so Hashem creates a woman “therefore man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife.” This is a person as relying on his relationships and brings value to his life and the world through them. Adam II is Covenantal Man, who seeks redemption.
Succos is very much Adam II’s holiday. The farmer, having just brought in his crop, has a propensity to credit himself for his success. Succos re-addresses that, by reminding him that it’s not his mastery alone that brings food to the table. The succah teaches that it’s not his fine house and the engineering it represents that bring security to his life.
There is a dispute between R’ Eliezer and R’ Akiva (Succah 11b) as to the nature of the succos in the desert that the mitzvah actually commemorates. According to R’ Eliezer (and Unkelus Vayikra 23:42, as well as the Shulchan Aruch O”Ch 625″1, Gr”a ad loc), the original succos were clouds of glory. According to R’ Akiva, they were actual huts.
Perhaps they’re basing themselves on different ideas about the significance of the succah. In R’ Eliezer’s opinion, the succah is commemorating Hashem’s gifts to us. It’s to remind us that there is a Covenantal Partner in our efforts. R’ Akiva has the original succah being the product of a partnership. Man builds, but it’s Hashem who insures the success of that building. R’ Eliezer focuses on our Partner, R’ Akiva on our willingness to join the Convenantal relationship. (See Aruch haShulchan O”Ch 625.)
Each speaks to the farmer celebrating his harvest as he gathers it at the end of the year. One speaks of the role of bitachon, trust in G-d, which may otherwise be forgotten. The other speaks of the appropriate end-state, of the synthesis of bitachon and hishtadlus, personal effort.
“And a mist came up from the ground, and gave moisture to the whole face of the earth.” – Genesis 2:6
“‘And a mist came up from the ground’: For the topic of the creation of man. He raised the tehom [groundwater?] and gave moisture to clouds to wet the earth and to make man. Like one who kneads bread, who adds water and after that kneads the dough. So too here, ‘He gave moisture’ and then ‘He formed’.” – Rashi ad loc
“And Hashem E-lokim formed the man, dust from the ground, and He breathed in his nose a living soul; and the man was a living spirit.” – Genesis, ibid v. 7
“‘Dust from the ground’: He collected dust from the whole earth, all four directions… Another opinion, He took his dust from the place about which it says ‘an altar of earth you shall make for Me.’ He said, ‘If only the dirt would be an atonement for him, and he would be able to stand.’” – Rashi ad loc
In his work “Pachad Yitzchak”, R’ Yitzchak Hutner notes the steps of creation of man, according to this second opinion in Rashi. First, G-d adds water to the earth to make clay, then He forms man and breathes a soul into him.
R’ Hutner writes that this is exactly what we recreate during the nisuch hamayim (water libation on the altar). The kohein pours water on the very spot Hashem did. This is accompanied by the simchas beis hasho’eivah, celebration and singing. Music is the most spiritual of the seven wisdoms. It speaks and moves the soul on a fundamental level. Through the Simchas Beis haSho’ievah we imitate G-d’s breathing a soul into Adam.
We just came from Yom Kippur and teshuvah. When Hashem fulfills His promise “And I will give you a new heart, and place a new spirit within you.” (Yechezkel 36:26) Simchas Beis haSho’eivah is a celebration of man’s ability to recreate himself, and therefore follows the steps of our original creation.
To continue R’ Hutner’s thought with a couple of my own, in light of the above: Repentance too can be seen in both R’ Eliezer’s and R’ Akiva’s perspectives. One can seek atonement from Hashem, and thereby realize the need to have a partnership with Him. Or, one can seek atonement from the partnership itself. As the same R’ Akiva says, “Praised are you Israel. Before Whom do you atone, and Who atones you.” Atonement is both done by man through the Divine Presence, and is a gift from Him. A dialectic.
I would like to suggest one additional point. This description is from the second chapter of Genesis, it’s the telling of the creation of Adam II. It’s not merely the celebration of our recent re-creation, it’s the celebration of our creation as beings in a covenantal partnership with the A-lmighty. And therefore, it’s not only on Succos as a postscript to Yom Kippur, it is a fundamental part of the message of the holiday.
© 2003 The AishDas Society