By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried
As we approach the holiday of Sukkot, we are bothered by an obvious question. If we are celebrating the Clouds of Glory which protected us when we left Egypt, why don’t we eat matzoh on Pesach sitting in a Sukah?
There are a number of answers to this question. R’ Eliyahu of Vilna offers the following explanation. When the Jews performed the sin of the golden calf, the Clouds of Glory disappeared, indicating that the Shechina, the Divine Presence, had left them. This was a tremendous source of sorrow for the Jewish people.
On the final 40 days that Moshe spent on Mt. Sinai, the Jews were forgiven for that sin on the 10th day of Tishrei, the first Yom Kippur, resulting in the giving of the second tablets. Although they were forgiven, the Divine Presence had not yet returned.
Upon descending the mountain, G-d commanded Moshe to engage the Jewish people in building the Mishkan, the Tabernacle which would be the abode for the Shechina to reside among the Jews. It took a few days to bring that commandment to the Jews and for them to collect all the materials they needed to begin that task. On the 15th day of Tishrei, they began to build the Tabernacle. To show the Jews that He is pleased with their fulfllment of His commandment, G-d returned the Clouds of Glory on that day. This was a source of tremendous rejoicing for the entire nation. The 15th of Tishrei is the holiday of Sukkot.
Sukkot is called “our time of joy”, more than any other holiday, because it is the ultimate simcha, that of reuniting with the Al-mighty, celebrating our teshuvah, our return on Yom Kippur and that it was truly accepted by G-d. It further teaches that teshuvah is always accepted by G-d.
This is why Sukkot is not celebrated on Pesach. We’re not just celebrating the Clouds which appeared when we left Egypt. We’re rather rejoicing over the Clouds which returned after Yom Kippur!
Together with the celebration of teshuvah we mark the re-giving and re-accepting of the Torah. Hence, Simchas Torah is at the end of Sukkot and not on Shavuos. We’re rejoicing over the Torah which was given through our teshuvah on Yom Kippur!
This year let us celebrate and rejoice over the acceptance of our teshuva by stepping up our commitment to Torah study in the coming year!
In the name of the rebbetzin and myself, wishing all a joyous holiday and a beautiful, meaningful, prosperous and healthy new year.
Rabbi Yerachmiel Fried is the dean of Dallas Area Torah Association.