Back to Main Page

Follow Him

By: Ms. Aliza Saltzburg

In this week’s parasha, the Torah discusses the different holidays in the Jewish calendar. When explaining Sukkot, the Torah states:

“You shall dwell in huts for seven days. Everyone included in Israel must live in such huts. This is so that future generations will know that I caused the Israelites to live in sukkot when I brought them out of Egypt…” (23:42-43)

What exactly does this mean? The “sukkot” that Hashem is referring to is the subject of a disagreement between Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Eliezer. According to the Talmud (Sukkah 11a), Rabbi Eliezer maintained that the reference is to the clouds of glory that accompanied Bnei Yisrael through the wilderness, while Rabbi Akiva believed that the verse should be understood literally (sukkot mamash). The pasuk is describing the actual, physical huts that Bnei Yisrael lived in.

The same difference of opinion can be found among the medieval commentators as well. Rashi and Ramban favored the “clouds of glory” explanation, the miraculous protection in the desert, while Ibn Ezra and Rashbam translated sukkot in its literal meaning—huts. No more, no less.

A question arises: According to the view that sukkot is to be understood in its literal meaning, what miracle does this festival represent? Pesach celebrates the miraculous exodus from Egypt performed through signs and wonders. Shavuot represents the giving of the Torah and the revelation of G-d to an entire people that has never again occurred in history. On the “clouds of glory” interpretation, Sukkot falls nicely into this pattern, recalling the miracles that accompanied Bnei Yisrael through the wilderness on their journey to Israel. But on the opinion that sukkot is to be taken literally, what miracle does a hut represent? Understood this way, it was merely a dwelling place for our nomadic people. What is the deeper message?

Throughout Tanakh, most of the references to the time spent in the wilderness speak of an ungracious people, constantly complaining, rejecting G-d’s gifts (for example, the manna; the bitter water). The prophet Yirmiyahu however, speaks of the opposite, praising Bnei Yisrael’s time in the desert.

“Go and proclaim in the hearing of Jerusalem: I remember the devotion of your youth, how, as a bride, you loved me and followed me through the desert, through a land not sown” (2:2)

Yirmiyahu speaks of the people’s faith and courage to embark on a journey through an unknown land, full of danger, sustained only by their trust in Gd. This is what the sukkot represent: the fact that the people had no permanent home or dwelling place exposed to the elements, at risk of attack, and yet continued to follow G-d with a trust that He would bring them safely to their destination.




Back to top