חג הסוכות תעשה לך שבעת ימים
A festival of sukkot, you shall make for yourself for seven days
The Sifri explains that the words “חג הסוכות” (a festival of sukkot for you shall make for yourself) teach us that the sukkot are “להדיוט,” for mundane purposes. But the Sifri then asks how we know that the sukkot are also “לגבוה,” for sacred purposes. From another verse, “חג הסוכות שבעת ימים לה’ א-לוקיך” (the festival of sukkot, seven days for your Eternal God) (Leviticus 23:34). But the question arises why, if the sukkot are for sacred purposes, does the Scripture also say that the sukkot are for yourself (לך)? To Sifri explains that the Scripture teaches us that even if you make the sukkah for yourself, God considers the sukkah to have been made for His sake.
Our master explained the meaning of the Sifri as follows. During the harvest season, when a man gathers his crops, the fruits of all his labor, from the field, he can easily delude himself and congratulate himself by saying: “I have done all this with my own hands.” That is why we were commanded to fulfill, at harvest time, the commandment of the sukkah, which, lest one exalt his heart and trust in his abundant wealth, rouses us to recognize our need for Divine Providence and to understand that all the blessings that come to our homes come from the hand of the Almighty. One might think that this understanding extends only to our material possessions, landed estates, gold and silver treasures, and all other objects of worldly desire.
But concerning knowledge of Torah and performance of the mitzvot, doing charity and an acts of kindness, fearing the Almighty, we might think that it might, indeed, be proper for one take pride in, and think well of, oneself, saying: “my wisdom enabled me to acquire for myself fear of God and abundant moral attainments.” Such pride would seem to accord with what Jeremiah the prophet said (Jeremiah 9:23-24): “אל יתהלל החכם בחבמתו ואל יתהלל הגבור בגבורתו אל יתהלל עשיר בעשרו כי אם בזאת יתהלל המתהלל וידע אתי” (let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, let not the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches. But only in this should one glory, that he understands and knows Me.) And, similarly, our Sages (Berakhot 33b) said, “הכל בידי שמים חוץ מיראת שמים” (everything is in the hands of Heaven except fear of Heaven).
However, the triumph of a man in the spiritual realm is also vain, for even in our service to, and fear of, the Blessed One our strength is too fragile to defend ourselves against the evil inclination, which constantly agitates within us. As our Sages (Megillah 6b) have said, “אלמלא הקב”ה עוזרו לא היה יכול לו” (were it not for the help of the Holy One Blessed Be He, we could not withstand our evil inclination). And concerning success in the study of our holy Torah, they said (Sukkah 52b), “לאסוקי שמעעתתא אליבא דהלכתא בעי סיעתא דשמעיא” (to interpret a Talmudic discussion in accord with the halakhah requires heavenly assistance).
Jeremiah was therefore referring only to a person who already has an egotistical bent. If one has such a tendency, then let him glory not in his wealth or in his worldly wisdom, but, based on the principle “מתוך שלא לשמא בא לשמא” that performing a good deed for an ulterior motive leads one to perform the good deed for its own sake, let him glory rather in his knowledge and understanding of God. But true servants of God, knowing that their own fear of God and their moral accomplishments are but the gift of God (as it says, “Open up for Me the width of a needle and I will open it for you as wide as the door of a palace”), will distance themselves from any form of pridefulness.
At Sukkot-time especially, when the danger is acute, one must be mindful about such pride. After having just observed Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, after having increased our study of Torah and our performance of good deeds in the month of Elul and the ten days of repentence, and having just repented unto God with all our hearts and all our souls, we have cleansed and purified our souls to such an extent that we are even compared to the angels on high. And since, during the period between Yom Kippur and Sukkot, we are completely preoccupied with our preparations for the mitzvot of sukkah and the four species, which is why our Sages commented on the verse (Leviticus 23:40) “ולקחתם לכם ביום הראשון” (and you shall take for yourselves on the first day [of Sukkot]), and why the Scripture refers to the first day of the festival rather than the day of the month, as the Scripture usually does in identifying a particular date, the first day of Sukkot is identified as the first day of the New Year on which transgressions are counted. Because people are inclined to be prideful, they may say boastfully: “I have climbed the holy steps without help or support.” However, if one focuses on the hidden meaning of the commandment of the sukkah, one will recognize, and thank the Eternal God for standing at his right side and enabling him to accumulate many mitzvot and good deeds into his storehouse.
This is what the Sifri was referring to in commenting that the verse “חג הסוכות תעשה לך” teaches us that the sukkah is related to the mundane. The Sifri meant that the sukkah teaches us a lesson about the temporal world and our material possessions, like the harvest of crops. We are to be reminded that all our material accomplishments and acquisitions were possible only with the aid of Divine Providence. That, of course, is the obvious symbolism of the sukkah. But then the Sifri asks: how do we know that the same is true even לגבוה, i.e., in the realm of the sacred? In other words, how do we know that, even in acquiring Torah and good deeds through the fear of God, that one may not take pride in his accomplishments? The Sifri answers that it is written “חג סוכות שבעת ימים לה’ א-להיך” which teaches us that the symbolism of the sukkah extends even to the spiritual realm.
The sukkah teaches us to recognize that we owe our spiritual as well as material achievements to Divine Providence. If so, the Sifri asks, why does the Scripture write “תעשה לך” (make [the festival of sukkot] for yourself)? Is it not a kal v’khomer? If it is impossible to acquire the Torah and perform good deeds without the aid of Divine Providence, how much more difficult must it be to acquire material possessions without Divine Providence? To this question the Sifri answers, as long as we make the sukkah, God considers it to have been made for His sake. In other words, if you understand and attribute you success in Torah and good deeds to the Almighty, then God will credit you as if your accomplishments had been achieved without Divine assistance. This is what is meant by the verse “חג הסוכות תעשה לך.” If we understand the symbolism of the sukkah, God will attribute our fulfillment the Torah and the commandments entirely to our own efforts. When we dwell in the sukkah, it is as if we say: “לך ה’ החסד חסדך גדול עלנו” (kindness is yours, O, God, how great is your kindness unto us). You reward each one of us according to our own actions, as if we fulfilled Your commandments on our own without help. And this is a great kindness. (שביבי אש)