Ra’anana Community Kollel
The Joy of Succot Through Repentance
Rabbi Yitzchak Wilk
In the Yom Tov liturgy we read, “You have chosen us from among the nations, You loved us and desired us . . .” The Vilna Gaon explained that each of these expressions refers to a different one of the festivals. “You have chosen us” refers to the holiday of Pesach when we were chosen as a nation. “You loved us”, refers to Shavuot when Hashem expressed his love for us by giving us the Torah. And finally, “You desired us”, refers to Succot when Klal Yisrael are desirable to Hashem after undergoing the purification process of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
This concept of desire also appears in connection with teshuvah, repentance. Our Sages tell us that after Yom Kippur a heavenly voice calls out, “Go and eat your bread because G-d desires your deeds”. The Shem MiShmuel explains that before a person does teshuvah, the positive effect generated by his mitzvot is not as potent and effective because the person’s sins cloud the effect of the mitzvot. Only after a person has done teshuvah do his or her mitzvot shine with their true brilliance. Thus, the heavenly voice proclaims that specifically now, after the Jewish people have done teshuvah, Hashem shows a newfound desire for the mitzvot they have performed. These are the good deeds that until now were overshadowed by their sins and only now, due to teshuvah, can shine forth.
With this in mind, we can understand why our Sages have said that it is a bad sign if it rains on the first night of Succot. By not allowing us to perform the mitzvah of eating in the succah, Hashem is demonstrating that not only does He not desire our mitzvot, but also that the entire teshuvah process has not been accepted.
This approach can also help us to understand why Succot, which commemorates the clouds of glory that enveloped Klal Yisrael when they left Egypt, is celebrated in the month of Tishrei and not in Nissan the time of year when the exodus actually took place. This is because, in fact, we are not commemorating the Clouds of Glory that shielded the Jewish people when they left Egypt. Rather, we are commemorating the Clouds of Glory that returned to the Jewish people in Tishrei. When they committed the sin of the golden calf, these clouds, which served as a constant source of protection while they were traveling in the desert, were taken away from Klal Yisrael and only returned with the giving of the second set of Luchot, on Yom Kippur after they had done teshuvah. With the succot that we build every year, we commemorate not only the return of the Clouds of Glory but more importantly, we in the fact that our teshuvah has been accepted by Hashem, which served as the impetus for their return.
We can see from here the power of teshuvah and the immeasurable love that Hashem has for the Jewsh people. Even after suffering a tremendous setback in their spiritual growth, their teshuvah was accepted by Hashem, Who after a mere eighty days gave them the second set of Luchot, commanded them to build the Tabernacle, and assured them, “ . . . I shall dwell in their midst”.