One of the aspects of the yom tov of Sukkos is the mitzvah of aliyah l’regel. Three times a year, the Jewish nation visited the Beis HaMikdash in Yerushalayim to greet the Presence of the Shechinah. Nowadays, most authorities hold that this mitzvah is not obligatory because, unfortunately, there is no Beis HaMikdash. The Midrash Yalkut Shimoni on Yeshayahu explains that in the future geulah, the mitzvah will not only be three times a year, but actually once a month!
Hashem’s Love For Us
But there is something else of interest to us in regard to aliyah l’regel. The Gemara (Yuma 54a) teaches that when the Jewish nation would be oleh regel, they would open the Paroches and reveal the Keruvim smiling and facing each other. They would declare to them, “See how much Hashem loves you.”
This is also a thought that we declare before we recite the daily Shema, and one that should be reinforced. When we realize how much Hashem loves us, we look at events in our life differently. We better appreciate what we have been given, and we also come to value and understand the hashgachah pratis, the individual attention, that we receive from Hashem. In turn, this perspective will allow us to fulfill the special avodah of Sukkos—simcha, spiritual joy.
Each of the yomim tovim has its own special avodah, method in which to serve Hashem and become ever closer to Him. The Gemara above tells us that it is reciprocal—Hashem comes ever closer to us on the yom tov. When we perform the special avodah of Sukkos, let us have this in mind.
Pesach is called Z’man Cheiruseinu, the time of our freedom. Shavuos is called Z’man Matan Toraseinu, the time when we received our Torah. And Sukkos is called Z’man Simchaseinu, the time of our joy. Although all yomim tovim are times of simcha, Sukkos is singled out where simcha is the essence of the holiday. Why?
The Nesivos Shalom explains that the sukkah is a manifestation of “Hevi’ani haMelech chadarav—The King has brought me into His inner room (Shir HaShirim 1:4).” After the Yomim Nora’im, during which Klal Yisrael has been elevated and purified, Hashem has given us the mitzvah of sukkah. The sukkah’s holiness is a revelation of Hashem’s intense love for His people, a love comparable to the love demonstrated when He was with us in the Beis HaMikdash itself.
This is why Sukkos has an extra dimension of simcha to it. We are a nation whose very essence thrives upon dveikus b’Hashem, closeness to Hashem. This is our true simcha. Indeed, the Gemara tells us (Sukkah 51b), “One who never witnessed the simchas Beis HaShoeivah [the all-night celebration on Sukkos] never saw joy in his or her life.” The Gemara cites Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananya (Sukkah 53a) whose words bear out that the simcha, the joy, was so captivating that no one slept in a bed on Sukkos.
Seeing One’s Teacher
Another aspect of the avodah on Sukkos, as on the other regalim, is to see and greet one’s teacher. The Talmud tells us (Rosh Hashanah 16b), “Chayav adam le’hakbil pnei rabbo ba’regel.” A fascinating observation can be made. It is a mitzvah on Sukkos to visit one’s teacher. Shluchei mitzvah, people on a mitzvah mission, are technically exempt from the mitzvah of sukkah (Shulchan Aruch O.C. 640:7) while on the road. We see how very important it is to visit and develop a bond with one’s Torah teachers! We also see that this is part of the avodah of the regalim. Seeing one’s teacher helps connect one to the chain of mesorah that connects to our birthright of Sinai, and consequently to further dveikus B’Hashem, which is one of the themes of the three regalim. Many people specifically try to see their teacher on Sukkos.
Effects Of The Sukkah
Dwelling in the sukkah can make another change within us as well. The gedolei haMussar have explained that sefer Mesilas Yesharim, written by Rav Moshe Chaim Luzzato, can be learned on many levels. The sefer carries the reader through different levels of spirituality. Each time one studies it carefully, one rises in that particular trait. Some of the traits discussed in Mesilas Yesharim are Zehirus, watchfulness; Zerizus, alacrity; Kedushah, holiness; and also Ruach HaKodesh, Divine wisdom. Chazal tell us that, to a degree, the sukkah does this as well. It can infuse us with a level of Ruach HaKodesh.
The mitzvah of sukkah is that one must dwell in the sukkah for seven days. This is the meaning of the verse “Ba’sukkos teishvu shivas yamim.”
The schach of a sukkah must be under the sky and not under a house or tree. The Shoel U’Meishiv explains that the fundamental essence of the mitzvah of sukkah is to expand our bitachon, our trust in Hashem. If there are intermediaries of shelter in between, the effect of the sukkah would thus be lost.
The schach must have grown from the ground and should not be touching or held up by anything that is mekabel tumah, even susceptible to becoming impure. Thus it may not be nailed down or even held up by something metal.
The sukkah must have walls—this is a halachah l’Moshe miSinai. The walls must be able to withstand a normal ordinary wind, a ruach metzuyah. If it cannot stand in such a wind, then the sukkah is not kosher, even if it is still up.
The minimum size of a sukkah is seven tefachim (handbreadths) by seven tefachim. A tefach, according to Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt’l, is 3.54 inches. The maximum height of a sukkah is twenty amos. An amah is 21.25 inches, according to Rav Feinstein.
The arba’ah minim are the lulav, the esrog, the aravim, and the hadassim. The mitzvah d’Oraisa is to take one’s own arba’ah minim in the hand on the first day of Sukkos. Women are not obligated in this mitzvah but receive schar if they perform it.
It is a little-known halachah, but on the first day of Sukkos there is a requirement that the person who is performing the mitzvah of netilas lulav should actually be the owner of the arba’ah minim. This is because the verse in the Torah states, “U’lekachtem lachem”—“Lachem” indicates that they should own it.
If a woman wishes to fulfill the mitzvah of lulav on the first day of Sukkos, she must receive the minim as a gift from someone else; merely taking it will not suffice. This should be verbalized. It is even true between a husband and wife and a father and daughter. In other words, when a father or husband gives the arba’ah minim to his daughter or wife it must be verbalized that it is a gift.
In order to fulfill this mitzvah in a situation where only one set of arba’ah minim is purchased, the legal concept called “matanah al menas l’hachzir” is used. This essentially means that the owner is gifting it to the person who wishes to perform the mitzvah, but only on condition that it eventually be returned.
On the first two days of Sukkos one should not give arba’ah minim to a child because of the following problem. From a halachic perspective, a child can receive a gift but cannot give a gift. This creates a problem even on the second day of yom tov.
On the other six days of Sukkos, there is a mitzvah d’Rabbanan to take the arba’ah minim. On the other days there is no requirement of “Lachem,” to own it (except in Chutz LaAretz where the second day of yom tov must be just like the first).
When the Beis HaMikdash stood, it was also a Torah mitzvah on the other six days to take the arba’ah minim in the Beis HaMikdash itself. The Rambam is of the opinion that it was a Torah mitzvah throughout all of Yerushalayim.
If any of the arba’ah minim is missing a part of its wholeness, then that item is no longer usable for the first two days of yom tov.
Some of the issues in regard to the esrog apply on the first two days, while others apply throughout the yom tov. For example, if there was an esrog with a pitom, and the pitom fell off but the rest of the esrog was intact, the esrog is unfit for the first two days but may be used for the rest of yom tov.
There is a mitzvah to beautify all the mitzvos that we perform. This is called hiddur mitzvah. On Sukkos, however, the arba’ah minim must all be beautified—all must be “pri eitz hadar” throughout chol ha’moed, too. Chazal, however, were the arbiters of what is called “hadar.” If any of the arba’ah minim are dried up or withered, they are no longer considered “hadar.”
Whenever yom tov comes immediately before Shabbos (which is not the case this year), an eiruv tavshilin must be made. An eiruv tavshilin is a rabbinic device that allows one to “continue preparing and cooking” for Shabbos on yom tov. One may ask: How could it be that a rabbinic enactment allows one to get around a Biblical prohibition? Find the answer at 5TJT.com.
Yom Tov Halachos
Like on Shabbos, there exists a prohibition of performing melachah on yom tov. What is melachah? Melachah is not necessarily defined as work. Melachah is defined as a certain type of creative act. More precisely, melachah is defined as the specific creative acts that were necessary to create the Mishkan, the resting place for Hashem’s concentration of the Shechinah Presence here on earth. Our refraining from such creative acts on Shabbos and yom tov is the collective flag of the Jewish people. It symbolizes and embodies our belief that the world was created for a purpose by a kind and benevolent Being who rewards good and punishes evil.
While the definition of melachah is the same for both Shabbos and yom tov, the Torah made some exceptions for yom tov. The Torah states that actions that are necessary for people to eat are permitted on yom tov. This is called “ochel nefesh.” Not all actions, however, are permitted for ochel nefesh purposes. If the food preparation could have been done with equal freshness and results before yom tov, and one had the time and opportunity to do it then, then it may only be done with a shinui on yom tov itself. There are some melachos on yom tov that are forbidden or very different even when it comes to food preparation.
It is also important to know that one may never do melachah on yom tov during bein ha’shemashos, twilight that immediately followed a yom tov. Why is this so? Because it is forbidden to do melachah on yom tov for another day, and we do not know exactly when the day changes from one to the other during bein ha’shemashos. Thus we might be doing melachah on yom tov for another day, which is forbidden.
One is also not permitted to perform any melachah on the first day of yom tov for the second day of yom tov, even if the preparations involve no melachah. This is called hachanah and is an area in which we must be very careful.
Chol ha’moed is a period of time that lies between yom tov and chol. It is important to recall that many people do not wear tefillin on chol ha’moed because of the elevated stature of chol ha’moed. Gardening is forbidden during this time as well. On chol ha’moed, one should wear better clothing than they do during the week. One should eat meat and drink wine during these times, too.
Melachah, work, on chol ha’moed is forbidden unless it fits into certain parameters. Unfortunately, the laws of chol ha’moed are not well-known. If any question comes up, a rav should be consulted. There are essentially only five heterim for work to be done on chol ha’moed. They are:
(1) Tzorchei ha’moed—for the needs of yom tov
(2) Davar ha’aveid—If something will be ruined or destroyed if the work is not done. Permanent damage to a business is included under this heter.
(3) Tzorchei rabbim—A great communal need, such as a broken mikveh, eiruv, street, sewage pipe.
(4) Po’el v’ein lo mah l’echol—If someone has no food to eat and requires making money in order to buy food.
(5) Maaseh hedyot—If it is an amateur action as opposed to a ma’aseh uman, a professional action. Repairing a car, for example, is generally a ma’aseh uman and is forbidden. Changing a tire is a ma’aseh hedyot. Ironing pleats on a skirt is a ma’aseh uman. Tailoring and dressmaking is a ma’aseh uman and forbidden. Sometimes a temporary hem can be sewn very unprofessionally and that is a ma’aseh hedyot. Driving a car would be a ma’aseh uman, but since everyone does it, the poskim have explained that it is now considered a ma’aseh hedyot.
A rav should always be consulted whenever any question arises regarding chol ha’moed.
The Mitzvah Of Hakhel
In the times of the Beis HaMikdash, on the first day of chol ha’moed Sukkos every seven years, a special mitzvah took place. All Jewish men, women, and children who were oleh regel would gather in the Chatzer of the Beis HaMikdash to hear the Jewish king read certain sections from the Torah. The Torah commands this mitzvah in Sefer Devarim (31:10–13) and it was done in the year following the Shemittah year. After the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash the mitzvah was discontinued.
Hoshanah Rabbah is a very holy and special day. It means the “great salvation” and is celebrated on the seventh day of Sukkos. The davening for Shacharis is like Shabbos morning, and the ba’al tefillah wears a kittel. The judgment, which was written on Rosh Hashanah and sealed on Yom Kippur, is handed down on this day. We circle the bimah seven times on this day. During the regular days of Sukkos we circle the bimah only once. We also take a bundle of aravos and hit them on the ground until the leaves fall off.
There is also a custom to stay up all night on Hoshanah Rabbah and study Torah.
Shemini Atzeres is the culmination of Elul, the Yomim Nora’im, and Sukkos, times and holidays when we have developed an intense closeness with Hashem. But Shemini Atzeres is actually a new and independent yom tov, where Hashem says to us, “Stop. Don’t go. Stay with Me one last day.” This is the explanation of the word “atzeres,” stop.
The number eight, according to the Maharal, alludes to the fact that this yom tov lies beyond the natural. There are seven days of the natural order—the eighth is above and beyond the natural. Shemini Atzeres lies beyond the natural order of the world. On Shemini Atzeres there was a gilui Shechinah, a revelation of the Divine Presence, so great that it filled the entire Mishkan (See Shabbos 87b). It was a light far beyond the natural order of this world.
The new yom tov necessitates its own Shehecheyanu. The berachah of Shehecheyanu should not just be said perfunctorily, Heaven forbid. Rather, we should use it to help us focus upon this idea—that Avinu she’baShamayim, our Father in Heaven, has asked for our presence together with him, one last day.
All the other yomim tovim are connected somehow to this physical world, Shemini Atzeres is not, according to the Nesivos Shalom. It is for this reason that the reason for its observance is not stated directly in the Torah.
Shemini Atzeres alludes to the time of future salvation where all the tikkunim, the fixing and the tweaking of the world’s Divine service, will be perfected.
In Eretz Yisrael, Simchas Torah and Shemini Atzeres are celebrated on the same day; in Chutz LaAretz, Simchas Torah is on the second day of yom tov. The celebration of the completion of the reading of the Torah cycle is celebrated.
After Ma’ariv, pesukim are handed out by the gabbai to be recited aloud. The first pasuk is “Atah hareisah.” Then the sifrei Torah are removed from the Aron and everyone joins in seven hakafos, circuits, with singing and dancing. In some communities, the Torah is read at night as well.
In the morning, there are another seven hakafos before the Torah is read. It is the custom for every man to receive an aliyah to the Torah on Simchas Torah. Indeed, even the children receive an aliyah, which is called “Kol HaNe’arim.” A large tallis is held over them as the Torah is read.
There are two important aliyos that are given on this day: The “Chassan Torah” completes the Torah, and the “Chassan Bereishis” begins it anew. The “Bereishis Torah” is read immediately to show that we are never, Heaven forbid, “done” with Torah. A special prayer is recited by the gabbaim for the people receiving these aliyos before they are called up to the Torah.
The author can be reached at Yairhoffman2@gmail.com. Read more of Rabbi Hoffman’s articles at 5TJT.com.