This Dvar Torah is adapted from the sefer דרש משה, by R’ Moshe Feinstein.
“כי בסוכות הושבתי את בני ישראל” I had Bnei Yisrael live in Succahs” (Vayikra 23:43). This pasuk refers to when the Jews were traveling in the desert, Hashem built Succahs for them to live in. There is a machlokes in Maseches Sukkah (11b) between R’ Akiva and R’ Eliezer if they were made of the ענני כבוד (clouds of glory) or if they were actual wooden Succahs. According to the opinion that they were actual Succahs, why would the pasuk have to mention them? If they were made out of clouds, I could understand why the pasuk would make a big deal out of it, but what’s the big deal about plain wooden huts?
There is a gemarah in Maseches Avoda Zara (3a) that in the future, Hashem will judge the nations of the world for their ability to do mitzvos by using a Succah. Since there is very little financial obligations with a Succah, it is considered an easier mitzvah to undertake. Hashem will make it very hot until the nations won’t be able to stand it, and will leave the Succah, kicking it as they leave. There are two questions with this. First of all, the Halacha is that if you are pained by sitting in the Succah (by cold, heat, rain, etc.) you are allowed to sit inside. Secondly, why use specifically a Succah in order to conduct this test?
The answer to these questions lies in the meaning of Succos. Succos comes after the harvest has ended; all the grain has been collected and our storehouses are full. It is very easy for a person to sit back and revel in his accomplishments. Therefore, Hashem commanded us that for a week we should leave our houses and brave the elements outside, thereby placing us in His hands. This demonstrates to us that He is control of everything; our accomplishments are only as a result of his help and blessings. Another point is to show that this world isn’t permanent; we may as well all be living in weak, wooden houses. Similarly, our accomplishments in this world are not for this world, everything we do is in order to receive reward for them in Olam Habah.
This principle can help us understand the gemarah in Succah. Many people live their lives thinking that this world is permanent; the Succah serves as a reminder to them of the true purpose of this world. For these people, we tell them about the Succah made of ענני כבוד which were pieces of Hashem’s glory on Earth and which reminds us that all we do in this world should be for the sake of heaven. However, people who have already achieved this level in this world, we still remind them that this world is only preparation for the next. They will receive their reward in the World to Come. By having them sit in the wooden Succah, this reminder is clear.
In reality, both R’ Akiva and R’ Eliezer agree that the B’nei Yisrael, having reached the level where they received the Torah directly from Hashem, lived in Succahs made of the ענני כבוד. When they argue, they are explaining this idea we have discussed. R’ Eliezer says the Bnei Yisrael had reached the level where everything they did was for the sake of Hashem. It is possible for every person to reach this level. R’ Akiva then adds that even someone who has reached this level can still use the reminder that this world is temporary and should only be used as a springboard for the next one. At this level, they still live in a Succah of wood. So if it will be uncomfortable for someone to sit in the Succah, the obligation falls off, because this mindset can’t be maintained if you cannot accept living in the Succah.
May we all be zoche this Succos to absorb the lesson of the Succah and get all the enjoyment that comes with this chag. As it says in the pasuk, “וּשְׂמַחְתֶּם לִפְנֵי יְ־הֹוָ־ה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם שִׁבְעַת יָמִים” “and you shall rejoice Hashem your God, for a seven day period” (Vayikra 23:40).