If one examines the construct of a Sukkah and considers its function, it would make logical sense to label it as a structure which provides shade from the sun, something to be used during the warmer seasons of the year. But think about it, don’t we use the Sukkah during the fall season when shade is plentiful? Why would we need to build a structure like a Sukkah during the fall when it functionally does not make sense?
The Sukkah is also an allusion to the Ananei HaKavod, the Clouds of Glory, which protected Benei Yisrael in the midbar (desert) once they left Missrayim/Egypt. By sitting in the Sukkah, we symbolize that HaKadosh Barukh Hu is protecting us no matter where we build our ‘home’. But again, didn’t we leave Egypt during the spring season? Why are we commemorating this by building a Sukkah during the fall?
Rabbi Avi Heller points out that according to the Midrash, Moshe Rabbenu gathered Benei Yisrael the very day after Yom Kippur and gave them the instruction to build the Mishkan, HaShem’s temporary home. Sure enough, they began to build the Mishkan five days after Yom Kippur, which just so happens to be the first day of Sukkot. Says the Vilna Gaon that it was at this time that the Ananei HaKavod returned to Benei Yisrael. And this is why we build the Sukkah at this time; to commemorate the building of the Mishkan and the return of HaShem’s Glory and Divine Protection over Benei Yisrael. Our Sukkot are actually a form of the Mishkan where the Shekhinah of HaKadosh Barukh Hu can dwell… if we allow it.
Just as Benei Yisrael were cleansed from their impurity when they left Missrayim/Egypt and were renewed as people after emerging from this crucible, we as Jews also just walked out of Yom Kippur where we were purified and rejuvenated from our past ‘slavery’. And just as they were enveloped in the Glory of Ribono Shel Olam, we also construct for ourselves a surrounding of Kedusha and glory so that the Presence of HaKadosh Barukh Hu could return to us as well.
In both cases, these structures are portable and temporary. The Mishkan and the Sukkah are both intermediary steps as a preparatory stage to a permanent dwelling place. The Mishkan would ultimately become the Beit HaMikdash and after seven days, we eventually trade in the Sukkah for our permanent homes. What both these parallels have in common is that the temporary dwellings are far less extravagant than the permanent ones we would eventually move into; they are far more simplistic than the latter. For at least a short while, we are meant to nullify all the materialism from our lives in order to acquire a certain level of spirituality in preparation for our permanent dwelling places. Once we tap into this spiritual reserve, once we internalize how Kadosh of a people we can become, only then are we able to move from the Mishkan to something like the Beit HaMikdash in all its glory, and only then can we move into our ‘permanent’ and more beautiful homes from the simple Sukkah. If we can earn spirituality in a portable home, wherever we go, we certainly can maintain it in a permanent place. We must carry over the Kedusha we earned from our temporary and portable homes into the sturdy and permanent homes we have, infusing our physical world with this very spirituality.
If one thinks about it, this concept is very similar to the relation between Olam HaZeh, this world and Olam HaBa. Why? This world is our temporary home. It is our preparatory stage for our permanent home, the world to come. In this world, we must rid ourselves of all materialism in order to attain the spirituality that we are meant to carry over to the next world. The less extravagant, the more simple we make our temporary dwelling, the better we can prepare for our permanent dwelling in Olam HaBa, the one that is eternal. Maybe this is why we serve HaShem Yitbarakh with a lulav and etrog, leaves and a simple fruit, and not with gold and silver. Instead of 7 days or 40 years, we have the short time span of only 120 years to live in simplicity in exchange for an everlasting life of spiritual luxury. Wouldn’t you trade in a mere 120 years in the grand scheme of things for eternal spiritual wealth? I know I would.
Rabbi Nahman miBreslev puts it beautifully, "Worldly desires are like sunbeams in a dark room; they seem solid until you try to grasp one". The only way to take in sunbeams is through the heart, not the hand. Surround yourself with the light of the Torah HaKedosha and reflect it unto others. Material things are fleeting, they hinder us from our true mission in life. We must focus on things that will cultivate our Neshama and only uplift it. We can do this best by focusing on the ruhaniut (spirituality) that fills this world, not the gashmiut (physicality) that unrightfully takes its place.
It says about Sukkot ‘Ve’Samahta be’Hagecha’, be happy during your holiday, and we must do just that! Wishing everyone a Hag Sukkot Sameah and a Shabbat Shalom uMevorakh!