Pesach and Sukkot are the twin pillars of the Jewish year. They are exactly six months apart, each on the fifteenth day of the first month of their respective years. Pesach marks the apex of the lunar year that begins in Nissan, and Sukkot does the same for Tishrei, the beginning of the solar year. That both these holidays begin on the 15th of the month is no coincidence, as it on the 15th that the moon is full. Like the moon, the Jewish people wax and wane, with moments when we are strong and times where we are barely noticeable.
The halachic system, like all legal systems, is on based on verifiable actions. What one may think when signing a contract is of little bearing; “matters of the heart are not matters” (Kiddushin 49b). While there are instances where our thoughts create moral obligations, it is rare that such can create a change in legal status. Rare--but not unheard of.
The Talmud classifies sukkah as a mitzvah kalla, a light and easy mitzvah. Where one must be almost deathly ill before one is permitted to eat on Yom Kippur or to violate many other Torah prohibitions, such is not the case with the sukkah. Here, a little discomfort—some rain, very hot weather, a few bees—and one may leave the sukkah; "mitztaer patur misukah", one who is uncomfortable is exempt from the mitzvah of sukkah.
"And it was on the eighth day" (Vayikra 9:1). While this verse is the beginning of a new parsha, the Torah clearly links it to the previous parsha in which the seven-day celebratory festivities for the dedication of the Mishkan are described. Interestingly, next week's parsha, Tazria, also begins with a reference to the eighth day. "When a women conceives and gives birth to a boy, she shall be ritually unclean for seven days...and on the eighth day the child's foreskin shall be circumcised" (12:2-3).
This week’s d'var Torah is sponsored in honour of the 80th birthday of Bashi (Esther) Burack by her children and grandchildren. May she go from strength to strength. “And you shall take for you, on the first day, a beautiful fruit...and rejoice before the Lord, your G-d, for seven days”. Being in the presence of G-d is the ultimate in simcha, joy and happiness. How could it be otherwise?
The history of our nation is linked with Pesach. Many of our mitzvoth—mezuzah, tefillin, Shabbat, honest weights, the prohibition of charging interest—are directly related to our Egyptian experience. There is an obligation to recall the Exodus on a daily basis and to relive that event once a year at the Seder. Sukkot seems like a minor festival in comparison.
This week’s d’var Torah is sponsored by Gershon and Leah Vandenbrink with best wishes for a joyous Sukkot.
In rabbinic literature, Sukkot is known simply as “Chag,” (the holiday), implying that it is the holiday par excellence. It is the most joyous of holidays both thematically and experientially. It is our z’man simchateinu, the time of our happiness.