When studying literature we must study not only its content, but also its form. This is especially true in the study of poetry, where the words themselves offer only a limited understanding of the text. Our Torah, in addition to being a description of the Divine, is a work of profound literature and poetry, and our understanding of it is greatly enhanced when we apply literary analysis to its study.
Judaism is not oblivious to the power and even importance of physical beauty. Phrases such as yefat tohar v’yefot ma’areh, loosely translated as very attractive, is one we find in the Torah to describe such heroines as Sarah, Rivka, Rachel and Esther. The Beit HaMikdash—and, by extension, our shuls—had to physically reflect the fact that it is the dwelling place of G-d. Beauty is to be obvious to all who enter.
Sukkot marks the beginning of the end of the holiday season. As the fall season commences, and as the days get progressively shorter and colder, festivities become more difficult. Travelling to Jerusalem for inspiration is no longer feasible and we must rely on the spiritual renewal gained during the previous six months of holidays.
"Keep the harvest festival as the year changes" (Shemot 34:22). This (half) verse is the only reference to Sukkoth (or more precisely Chag Ha'aseif, the harvest festival) in the Torah reading that our Sages have ordained for Shabbat Chol Hamoed. It seems like a rather weak reason for this reading.
The Jewish year begins with the aseret yemei teshuva, the ten days of repentance. They begin with the strict justice of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Hadin; and culminate on Yom Kippur, with its unique opportunity for forgiveness. The intensity of these days is reflected in our liturgy, our special customs, and in Jewish law, where certain stringencies are recommended only during these ten days. The unique nature of the “High Holy Days” is recognized even by those otherwise very far removed from Jewish observance.
When studying literature, we must study not only its content but also its form. This is especially true in the study of poetry, where the words themselves offer only a limited understanding of the text. Our understanding of Torah, in addition to its description of the Divine, is as a work of profound literature and poetry, and our study of Torah is greatly enhanced when we apply these same standards to its study.
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 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.