Hag HaSukkot: Teshuva Me’Ahava
The Torah (Vayikra 23: 33-44) commands us to observe the Festival of Sukkot. However, the structure of the commandment is somewhat curious. It begins by describing the beginning and end of the Festival, and how one should not work on the first and eight days. Afterwards, the Torah returns to the first day and describes other aspects of the Festival.
How are we to understand the order of these verses? Why does the Torah divide the commandment to observe the Festival of Sukkot in this manner? The Seforno explains that the Torah describes what all the Festivals have in common, i.e., not doing work and the korbanot, and then describes the uniqueness of the day, i.e., the festival on the eighth day, the arba minim and the sukka.
The Torah returns to the topic of the korbanot in Parshat Pinhas. In this parasha, the Torah focuses on the various korbanot offered on each Festival. Regarding Sukkot, the Torah teaches that on the first day thirteen bulls are brought, and twelve on the second day, until the seventh day upon which seven are brought-- seventy bulls in total. The rabbis teach us that these seventy bulls correspond to the seventy nations. The Jewish people pray for the welfare of the nations of the world on Sukkot.
In addition to the seventy bulls, fourteen sheep (kevasim) are offered each day, totaling ninety-eight during the seven days of Sukkot. Some explain that these ninety-eight sheep correspond to the curses directed towards the Jewish people. The Kedushat Sion writes that if one counts the words of the curses of Parashat Ki Tova, there are 676 words. Interestingly, as it is clear that the curses are the result of our sins, it is not surprising that the total numerical value of the letters of the word avonot (sins), spelled out, equals 676.
What emerges, therefore, is a relationship between the ninety-eight sheep offered on Sukkot, and our avonot (sins). It appears that the sheep on Yom Kippur are meant to atone for the avonot (sins), for which there are 676 words of Divine curses. These ninety–eight sheep protect us from the curses of Parashat Ki Tavo.
However, we might ask, if Yom Kippur is understood as a day of atonement, why do the Jewish people need to be forgiven on Sukkot as well, days after Yom Kippur?
The commentaries teach us that teshuva can atone for the sins of the past. The sins are no longer viewed as rebellious, purposeful acts, and therefore the person is not punished. This type of teshuva is known as teshuva me’yirah, repentance done from fear, and this is the teshuva of Yom Kippur. However, there is another type of teshuva – teshuva me’ahava – teshuva done from love of God. The rabbis teach us that when one repents due to one’s love of God, his sins are then viewed as good deeds. On Sukkot, the Festival of simha, we perform teshuva me’ahava. On those days, the ninety-eight sheep, which correspond to the curses of Parshat Ki Tavo, represent the sins (avonot) which are atoned for on Sukkot due to our teshuva of ahava, reflected by the korbanot of Sukkot. It is this happiness, and atonement, which explains the unique experience of Sukkot.