The Special Protection of Succot
There is a beautiful Derasha (homily) said by the Rabbis in interpreting a passage from the daily Amida prayer, in which we describe Hashem as "Melech Ozer U’moshi’a U’magen" ("King who assists, brings salvation and protects"). These four words, the Rabbis teach, refer to the four significant time-periods of the month of Tishri. The word "Melech" ("king") corresponds to Rosh Hashanah, when we proclaim God’s Kingship over the earth. The second word, "Ozer" ("assists"), alludes to the Aseret Yemeh Teshuba (Ten Days of Repentance), when God helps us repent and draw closer to Him. "Moshi’a" ("brings salvation") refers to Yom Kippur, when God mercifully cleanses and purifies us from our sins, thus saving us from punishment. Finally, the term "Magen" ("protects") alludes to Succot. On Succot, we leave the comfort and security of our homes, which are equipped with locks and alarm systems, and live in the unstable, unprotected environment of the Succa, where we are exposed to the elements, placing our trust in God, confident that He will protect us. As the verse states in Tehillim, "Ki Yispeneni Be’suko" – "For He protects me in His Succa." When we leave our homes and enter the Succa, we leave the security of our manmade dwellings and enter the security of God’s special protection.
We may, however, offer a different explanation for the correspondence between "Magen" and Succot. Throughout the period of the Yamim Nora’im, we’ve worked on ourselves and ascended to high spiritual levels. With the conclusion of the High Holidays, we need to "protect" and preserve these precious achievements – and this is one of the main purposes of Succot. We celebrate this holiday in order to protect what we’ve gained during the season of repentance, to ensure that we retain our high level of spirituality for at least another week, which will then, hopefully, allow us to retain this level for the next several weeks and months. This is the meaning of "Magen" – Succot helps us protect the great achievements that we’ve made during the period of Rosh Hashanah, the Aseret Yemeh Teshuba, and Yom Kippur.
Immediately after Succot, on Shemini Aseret, we begin reciting in the Amida, "Mashib Ha’ru’ah U’morid Ha’geshem," which literally means, "He who makes the wind blow and brings down the rain." One Rabbi, however, quipped that once the holidays of Tishri end, "Mashib Ha’ru’ah" – people return the "Ru’ah," the spirituality that they experienced during the holidays, and "Morid Ha’geshem" – they bring down the "Gashmiyut," the indulgence in physical and material pursuits. Let us avoid this tendency and see to it that all the hard work we invested during the season of the Yamim Nora’im will not be for naught. Let us protect and preserve those accomplishments, so that they will continue to motivate and inspire us to reach even greater levels of spirituality during the weeks and months ahead.