The History of Sukkot
The Zohar, in a remarkable passage (Raya Mehemna, Parashat Emor), traces the history of the holiday of Sukkot back to the earliest stages of our nation’s development – to the time of Yaakob and Esab.
The story of Sukkot, the Zohar explains, begins at the time when Yishak informed Esav of his desire to confer upon him his special blessing. Yishak instructed Esav to hunt an animal and bring him delicacies, at which point he would bless him. The Zohar comments that on Rosh Hashanah, the divine attribute of judgment (“Din”), which is symbolized by Yishak, instructs “Esav” – the Satan, who prosecutes against us – to find him “delicacies,” the sins of the Jewish People. But after Esav goes out to “hunt” for these “delicacies,” Ribka, who represents the Shechina, speaks to Yaakob – the Jewish Nation – and tells him he needs to come before Yishak first before Esav arrives with the report of all our sins. Yaakob must go and prepare his own “delicacies” – prayers and Misvot – in order to “sweeten” the judgment that would otherwise be issued against him. And so Yaakob comes before Yishak with his delicacies, and Yishak observes, “Ha’kol Kol Yaakob” – “The voice is the voice of Yaakob!” This refers to the sounding of the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah, whereby we “sweeten” the harsh judgment by infusing it with kindness and compassion.
The Torah goes on to describe how Esav was enraged by having lost the blessings, and vows revenge. After Rosh Hashanah, the Satan, seeing that he was silenced, vows revenge and plots evil against the Jewish People. And so later, as the Torah relates in Parashat Vayishlah, Esav comes to kill Yaakob together with four hundred men. He comes armed with all of the Jews’ sins, ready to prosecute against us. But Yaakob manages to appease Esav by sending him a gift – symbolizing the Se’ir La’azazel, the goat which is offered on Yom Kippur and sent off a mountain. The Zohar views this offering as a gift of appeasement which we give to Esav, the Satan, so he will desist from prosecuting against us. After Yom Kippur, at the conclusion of this tense confrontation with the Satan, “Esav turned around and went along his way to Se’ir.” The Satan once and for all leaves us alone and no longer seeks to cause us harm. The very next verse tells, “Yaakov journeyed to Sukkot…and he constructed Sukkot for his cattle…” Once the Satan leaves, Hashem invites us into the Sukka with Him as a groom takes his bride into his private room.
This is the early history of Sukkot, and this is the reason why Sukkot is “Zeman Simhatenu” – the special holiday of joy. After the tense, difficult period of the Yamim Nora’im, when we were threatened by the Satan who sought to prosecute against us on the basis of the sins we’ve committed, Hashem now wants to celebrate our close relationship with Him. On Sukkot we celebrate the Satan’s defeat, that despite the mistakes we have made, we are still Hashem’s special nation, and He wants us to return to Him and spend this week together with Him in the Sukka, enjoying the unparalleled joy of being in His presence.