In a message for Succot, 5774, Rav Cherki discusses the internal meaning of the mitzva of succah.
Succot is a holiday celebrated in pastoral surroundings, as opposed to other Jewish holidays which are celebrated at home. The holiday of Succot takes place outside, in a “green” atmosphere. This is a place where we perform the ritual of the Four Species (which are all of plant origin), and the succah itself is made of green materials, taken from plants, all of which makes us happy. This gives us a feeling of linking to nature, and it serves as the basis for the value that Jewish literature places on the sanctity of nature.
Usually we encounter holiness outside of the realm of nature. In general, to be holy we must fight against nature, but on Succot – after we have marked Rosh Hashanah, the New Year, and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement – and all our sins have been forgiven, we no longer have any fear of nature.
In fact, we are happy about this pastoral holiday, and we therefore invite the other nations of the world to join us for the holiday of Succot. It is through our contact with the other nations that we are able to develop our concepts of the sanctity of nature. On Succot, we sacrifice seventy oxen in the Temple, in order to atone for the seventy nations of the world.
While the holiday of Pesach is liable to bring out a possibility of friction between Israel and the other nations, Succot is a time for reconciliation, love, and world brotherhood.
The Talmud (in the tractate of Avoda Zara) tells us a picturesque story about the other nations coming to the Master of the World in the distant future to request that they too be allowed to obtain some of the merits that the nation of Israel gathered during the course of world history. When they ask how they can do this, the Holy One, Blessed be He, tells them to perform the mitzva of Succah.
What is the essence of this mitzva of Succah, of spending time in a temporary booth? It symbolizes the concept of total peace. We have been taught that in principle a single huge succah can be built that will take in all of Israel, and in fact all of mankind. Thus, the ability to observe this mitzva shows that it is possible for all mankind to live in peace. And this is the main element on which mankind will be judged at the end of days.
The Talmud explains that the danger of this test is that if the weather becomes too hot the other nations will leave the succah (this reaction is halachically permitted if the succah becomes uncomfortable because of the heat). However, they might go so far as to express their displeasure by giving the succah a kick, implying that man wants to rid himself of the obligation to live in peace.
But this is not the proper way to treat a succah, rather a person should be sad if he is forced to leave. There are indeed circumstances that would make us leave the succah – there are times when we must leave peace behind and even engage in war. But we should not be happy when this happens. We should not be happy that we are abandoning the burden of keeping the peace, rather we can be sad that there are times when we cannot attain this exalted goal. This is the main factor in the judgment of the nations of the world at the end of days.
Anybody who loves peace so much that he feels sorry when he is forced to wage war has thus joined in with the moral experience of recognizing the value system of the nation of Israel. This is the vision of the end of days. When the entire world lives in peace, everybody will rise up to Jerusalem, as in the prophecy by Zachariah, to offer sacrifices to the G-d of Hosts and to celebrate the holiday of Succot.
From a historical point of view, we know from the testimony of the historian and military expert Josephus Flavius that on Succot near the end of the era of the Second Temple thousands of people from the nations of the world visited the Temple in order to join the nation of Israel in celebrating the appearance of the Shechina in a world whose problems had been solved. The world after the end of Yom Kippur does not know what it means to commit a sin.
We yearn for a world where the evil inclination has been conquered and where every man can live happily with others, a world where man can join nature, and where man and nature together can join the Holy One, Blessed be He. This is the great expectation that we have at this time of year. We invite all of humanity – all the Bnei Noach – to come and celebrate with us in the Temple, the place which is a House of Worship for all the nations.