D'var Torah: The Unity of Sukkot
In the Haftarah of the first day of Sukkot, we read about the prophecy of Zechariah regarding the war of Gog and Magog, a war of Messianic times that will prove to all of the nations that Hashem alone is the King and that Bnei Yisrael are his people. The acknowledgement of this fundamental fact will be celebrated on Sukkot, for, according to the prophecy, the surviving nations will join the Jewish people every year to celebrate the Sukkot festival. If the nations do not join the Jewish people in this celebration, they will be punished. As Zechariah declares, “And if the family of Egypt will not ascend and will not come… They will suffer the plague with which Hashem will afflict the nations, because they will not have ascended to celebrate the festival of Sukkot. This will be the punishment of Egypt and the punishment of all the nations that will not ascend to celebrate the festival of Sukkot.”
Many people who read this pasuk, including myself, have difficulty comprehending that in the future, the other nations of the world will sit in a Sukkah together with the Jews, and if they don’t, they will be punished. Many Rabbis explain that there is an underlying meaning behind this pasuk, a meaning that goes beyond simply sitting in a sukkah with a gentile.
As we have all learned in our Judaic Studies classes, there are two mitzvot that a Jew is required to perform on Sukkot. 1) The Jewish people must dwell in the Sukkah for seven days, and 2) the Jewish people must take the four species, the Arbat Haminim (etrog, lulav, hadassim and aravot).
Believe it or not, the value of Achdut, unity, is the backbone of both of these mitzvot. The Gemara in Masechet Sukkah 27b states, “re’uyim kol Yisrael leisheiv besuccah achat,” “All of Israel are fit to sit in one sukkah.” Unlike many other mitzvot, the mitzvah of dwelling in the sukkah encourages Jewish families to unite and celebrate the holiday together. Sitting in the sukkah is a mitzvah through which Klal Yisrael becomes united.
The mitzvah of the Arbat Haminim comes with an aspect of unity, too. According to the Midrash, the four species represent four different categories of Jews. The etrog, which is edible and has a smell, represents the tzaddik, who studies Torah and performs mitzvot. The lulav, which only has taste but no smell, represents a Jew who is mostly involved in Torah study. The hadassim, which have smell but no taste, represent the Jew who is involved in doing good deeds but does not have the capability to study Torah. The arovot, which have neither taste nor smell, represent the Jew who unfortunately lacks both Torah and mitzvot. Despite the heavy discrepancies between these four categories of Jews, Hashem nevertheless wants Bnei Yisrael to be a united nation as one. That is why we hold the four species together, to show that the Jewish people, despite their internal differences, are one.
Therefore, Zechariah’s reference to the sukkah is not just to be taken literally. Maybe, rather than intending that in Messianic times the genitle will be obligated to eat in a sukkah with a Jew, he means that the non-Jews will be expected to exercise the lesson conveyed by the mitzvot of Sukkot, specifically the value of unity. Everybody must sacrifice any motivation for personal gain and replace it with a sense of responsibility and unity. Hence, Zecharyah’s words, “Lo ya’alu lachog et chag haSuccot," “They have refused to go up to celebrate the festival of Sukkot," can be explained to mean that they have refused to elevate themselves spiritually and realize the message that Sukkot teaches humanity.
I believe that this lesson can be applied to our daily lives as students. It is up to us, as young Jews, to defend each other and support each other, and ultimately unite as one even stronger nation. We can start doing this by simply having our friends’ backs in school, and by including everyone in activities. Similar to how the different species are shaken together, we, no matter our differences, come in a package as one.
I wish everyone a Chag Sameach!