As Succos approaches, beginning tomorrow night, there are several questions that don’t quite make sense about this Chag. The basic understanding of the verse (Vaikra 23:42,43) as explained by Gemara in Succah (11b) is that we are commanded to commemorate that we lived in “Succos” in the desert referring to Annanei Hakavod (the Clouds of Glory that protected us in the desert) so too now we live in Sukkos nowadays. However, a number of questions remain:

There were a number of other miracles that happened on our way to the homeland as well, such as water flowing from the well of Miriam and mann that fell every morning. How come we commemorate only the Annanei Hakavod? Why don’t we have a holiday called “Mayanot” and as part of the celebration we would drink water from the wells?!

Second, the holiday really should be in the month of Nissan, Pesach time, which is when the Clouds first appeared, upon the beginning of our journey in the desert, so why are we celebrating it on the 15th of Tishrei six months later?

Finally, Succos is called Zman Simchaseinu (Time of our Happiness) and, even though we are supposed to have simcha on all chagim here, according to the title of the chag, we have to go an extra step (Rambam Hil. Lulav 8:12). Why?

The Vilna Gaon (on Shir Hashirim 1:4) explains that we celebrate Succos in the month of Tishrei not because of the commemoration of the Ananei Hakavod themselves but rather their return on the 15th of Tishrei. Where did they go? Well, it all started when the Jews panicked, because they thought that Moshe died since he appeared to be taking a bit longer to get the luchos (tablets) when he went up to Har Sinai for 40 days after receiving the Torah (no “Jewish time” for him). Consumed by panic, people decided to build the golden calf. Now, of course, that was a miscalculation on their part and their failure to maintain commitment to the relationship with Hashem. Therefore, Hashem withdrew his presence from the Jewish people including the Ananei Hakavod. The story does have a good ending – at the beginning of the month of Elul Moshe went back up onto the mountain and after 40 days (which falls on Yom Kippur) he obtained forgiveness for the whole nation from Hashem and brought down the new set of luchos. Right then, he was commanded to build the Mishkan (the Tabernacle). Five days later, all the materials were donated by the Jewish nation and on the 15th the building of the Mishkan began. At the commencement of the building the Ananei Hakavod returned reflecting the return of Hashem’s presence among the Jewish nation. We were back on good terms with our Creator.

What is the extra Simcha on Succos about? Interestingly, the Mishkan represents the Chuppa of the “marriage” of the Klal Yisroel and Hashem. And just like the Chuppa represents the highest level simcha, of the beginning of a married relationship, so too does building of the Mishkan.  We know, that Jewish holidays are not simple historical commemorations. These are times that were created in the time-space reality of the world for eternity and we have a chance to tap into them every year with the same intensity as when these times  were originally created. Therefore, having gone through Pesach –which was the time of the formation of our nation, Shavuot – receiving of the Torah,  Rosh Hashanah – where we tapped into our individual and national purpose in this world in the service of the King, Yom Kippur – where we adjusted our course by doing Teshuvah, now on Succos we tap into the eternal connection and extra Simcha of knowing and feeling the love between us and Hashem.

We can also learn an eternal lesson from this. Every relationship starts with excitement of new connection and new opportunity. That is what happened with us at Pesach (leaving Egypt to serve God) and Shavuot (receiving the details of what the commitment is about). However, any relationship has its ups and downs. The true Simcha comes from knowing that both parties are committed to being with one another through thick and thin. Succos teaches us an invaluable lesson – whenever one is facing a challenge in his relationship (like what happed with the golden calf) whether it is with his friends, family, internally with himself, or even when one feels that Hashem is not there for him, he must remember to work on the relationship. This can be done by addressing issues in the proper way where the parties are open to taking responsibility for their feelings and actions and take time to understand one another, which will ultimately bring them much closer with an abundance of Simcha as their relationship moves to a new level of closeness. Chag Sameach!

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