Sunday, September 15, 2013
SUKKOS AND YAAKOV AVINU
The Tur tells us that each of the shalosh regalim corresponds to one of the three Avos: Pesach corresponds to Avraham Avinu, Shavuos to Yitzchak Avinu, and Sukkos to Yaakov Avinu. His source of this idea is parashas Vayishlach, which tells us that after encountering Esav, Yaakov went to a place called Sukkos, where he made sukkos for his animals. This suggests some kind of connection between Yaakov and the festival of Sukkos. What links the two? One interesting feature of Sukkos is that on this holiday, even the most mundane activities, such as eating and sleeping, become mitzvos. Ordinarily, these activities are neutral, i.e., neither mitzvos nor aveiros. The mere act of sitting in the sukkah, however, turns them into mitzvos and enables one to say the blessing of “leisheiv basukkah.” Thus, Sukkos has the power to elevate daily activities to acts of great holiness. This aspect of Sukkos can help us understand some differences between it and the other holidays: The Kol Bo notes that one says a berachah whenever he fulfills the mitzvah of being in the sukkah. In contrast, there is a mitzvah to eat matzo throughout Pesach, yet we say a berachah only on the first night. Why not every day? The Kol Bo answers that when a person eats matzo during the rest of Pesach, it is not apparent that he is doing so because it is a mitzvah. He may be eating matzo simply because he is hungry and forbidden to eat bread. On Sukkos, however, there is no practical reason to be in the sukkah; one can easily be at home. The fact that he stays in the sukkah therefore indicates that he is doing so purely for the sake of the mitzvah. Thus, he may say a berachah throughout Sukkos, for he demonstrates that he is performing the normally mundane acts of sleeping and eating because it is a mitzvah to do so in the sukkah. The Ben Ish Chai applies the concept that merely living in the sukkah is a mitzvah to answer a different question about Sukkos. Unlike Pesach and Shavuos, Sukkos is described as zman simchaseinu. The other holidays are also times of great happiness, so why is only Sukkos considered “the time of our joy”? He answers that Sukkos is extra-joyous, because the mitzvah of sitting in the sukkah applies throughout the festival. This constant ability to perform mitzvos in honor of the holiday arouses great joy. He writes that on the other festivals there is no essential difference in a person’s daily life. Accordingly, one may not have the constant awareness of the festival that he has on Sukkos, so his joy is less. This is the reason Sukkos in particular evokes simchah. Thus, we see that Sukkos is unique in that it transforms non-holy activities into mitzvos and grants us constant awareness of the festival and its joy. How is this aspect of Sukkos connected to Yaakov Avinu? Of all the Avos, Yaakov was most deeply involved in the daily vicissitudes of life, such as dealing with dishonest people, working long hours, and bringing up a large family. For many years he had to cope with the neutral realms of work and home, unable to devote all his time to learning and prayer. One aspect of Yaakov’s greatness is that he nonetheless elevated his daily activities to acts of holiness. Upon returning from his long years in exile, he declares to his brother, Esav, “I lived (garti) with Lavan.” Chazal tell us that the letters of the word garti also spell taryag, which represents the 613 mitzvos. Yaakov was alluding to the fact that he had remained steadfast in his service of Hashem despite living in adverse conditions. It seems that many aspects of Yaakov Avinu relate to his ability to sanctify the mundane. Chazal tell us that the Avos described the Beis HaMikdash (and, by extension, avodas Hashem) in different ways. Avraham called it a mountain; Yitzchak, a field; and Yaakov, a house. Why does Yaakov refer to it as a house? A house is where a person performs all the mundane activities of his daily life, including eating, sleeping, and forms of work. Yaakov elevated all such activities, because he saw them all as opportunities for holiness. Accordingly, he viewed a house as a vehicle of Divine service. In a similar vein, the Avos represent the three daily prayers. Avraham corresponds to Shacharis, Yitzchak to Minchah, and Yaakov to Ma’ariv. Unlike Shacharis and Minchah, Ma’ariv is non-obligatory. Why is Yaakov in particular associated with an optional prayer? Because of his ability to turn non-obligatory activities into mitzvos. He represents a person’s desire to connect to Hashem even when he is not obligated to do so. Yaakov also corresponds to the third blessing in the Shemoneh Esrei, that of kedushah. For holiness means not merely avoiding the physical world, but sanctifying it, so it too can be used to serve Hashem. With this understanding of Yaakov and Sukkos, their connection is obvious. Both take optional activities and make them holy. It is easy to feel pious when involved in obviously spiritual activities, such as learning and praying. It is far more difficult to connect to Hashem while eating, sleeping, and working. Only on Sukkos do such actions become mitzvos merely by one’s doing them in the sukkah. Of course, this does not mean we are allowed to overeat and oversleep in the sukkah. Rather, we must focus on the fact that dwelling in the sukkah is a great opportunity to develop awareness of Hashem in our daily lives. If we seize this opportunity, we can continue sanctifying our mundane acts even after the festival has ended.