Succot: Celebrating Hashem’s Love
The Talmud in Masechet Sukka describes the special celebration that was held each night of Sukkot in the Bet Ha’mikdash, which was called the Simhat Bet Ha’sho’eba. This celebration featured euphoric singing and dancing, and even juggling. The greatest sages would dance with unmatched fervor and intensity. We commemorate this event by conducing our own Simhat Bet Ha’sho’eba celebrations during Sukkot, singing and dancing with immense joy and festivity.
What is the reason behind this practice? Why do we hold such an event specifically on Sukkot, and not on the other holidays?
The answer is found in the famous comments of Gaon of Vilna (1720-1797) to explain the meaning of the holiday of Sukkot.
The Torah (Vayikra 23:23:43) tells that we reside in Sukkot during this holiday to commemorate the "Sukkot" in which our ancestors resided during their sojourn in the desert. According to one view in the Gemara, which is accepted in the Shulhan Aruch (Orah Haim 625), this refers to the Ananeh Ha’kabod, the miraculous "clouds of glory" which encircled our ancestors as they traveled. The Vilna Gaon explained that after Beneh Yisrael worshipped the golden calf, G-d removed these special clouds. Although He continued sustaining them by providing the heavenly manna and the miraculous well of water, He denied them the benefits of the Ananeh Ha’kabod, which made the conditions especially comfortable and even cleaned Beneh Yisrael’s clothing. These clouds, which were more of a luxury than a necessity, expressed G-d’s special love for His people, like an expensive piece of jewelry which a husband buys for his wife. Once Beneh Yisrael betrayed Hashem by worshipping the golden calf, these clouds were taken away. On Yom Kippur, Hashem announced that He forgave Beneh Yisrael, and would not destroy them, but the Ananeh Ha’kabod returned only several days later – once they began building the Mishkan. After having given gold for fashioning an idol, they now generously gave their gold and other precious possessions toward the construction of a Sanctuary for G-d. Having shown their unbridled devotion to G-d, the Ananeh Ha’kabod returned, signifying the full restoration of Beneh Yisrael’s prior relationship with G-d, to the point where His love was now expressed just as it had been before the sin of the golden calf.
The Vilna Gaon explained that this is what we celebrate on Sukkot – the return of the Ananeh Ha’kabod, which signified the full restoration of our special relationship with Hashem.
If, indeed, Sukkot marks the rectification of the sin of the golden calf, then we can perhaps gain insight into the meaning behind the Simhat Bet Ha’sho’eba celebration.
The Torah says (Shemot 32:19) that when Moshe returned from the top of Mount Sinai, and he saw the people dancing around the golden calf, he was incensed, and he threw the stone tablets down to the ground, shattering them. The commentaries note that what angered Moshe was not the sin per se, but rather than joy and festivity surrounding the sin. As human beings, we are going to make mistakes and act wrongly on occasion. But what makes our misdeeds especially grievous is when we commit them happily, with enthusiasm and excitement. As part of the Tikkun (rectification) of the sin of the golden calf, we must reverse our ancestors’ fervent celebration of the golden calf by showing joy and enthusiasm for the service of Hashem.
This is what the joy of Sukkot is all about. Immediately after Yom Kippur, during the days when our ancestors generously donated materials for the Mishkan, we spend money for the Misvot of Arba Minim and Sukka, and we are busy and excited preparing for the Yom Tob. And then, during Sukkot, we excitedly sing and dance to celebrate our special relationship with Hashem.
Over the course of the year, we have at times failed to show proper enthusiasm for the service of Hashem. We occasionally displayed greater excitement for things such as money, entertainment, lavish vacations and material possessions, than for our relationship with our Creator. On Sukkot, we correct this mistake by celebrating with Hashem, by experiencing and showing sincere, genuine joy over our status as Hashem’s children, which is truly the greatest source of joy and excitement possible.