Why is Sukkot Referred to as the Time of Happiness?
Sukkot is commonly referred to as זמן שמחתינו, or “The time of our happiness”. It is not rare for the Jewish holidays to have additional names that help describe the significance of the holiday. For example, Pesach is also called זמן חרותינו, or “The time of our freedom”, signifying the commemoration of our freedom from Egypt. However, one may ask, what is the connection between Sukkot and happiness? Why is this time specifically called a time of joy- shouldn’t feel joyful on every holiday?
An opinion in the Talmud (Sukkah 11b) states that a Sukkah represents the protective ענני הכבוד, the Clouds of Glory, that surrounded the nation of Israel as they traveled through the desert, and Chag Sukkot is meant to commemorate this gift. This raises the following question, asked by the Vilna Gaon: if the nation of Israel first became protected in the month of Nissan, then why are we celebrating this gift on Sukkot, in the month of Tishrei? He answers that these protective clouds were removed as the nation of Israel’s punishment for committing the sin of constructing the עגל הזהב, the Golden Calf. Moshe atoned for the nation, which he did on Yom Kippur, the 10th of Tishrei. The Clouds of Glory were returned after Bnei Yisrael began building the Mishkan on the 15th of Tishrei, which is the day that we celebrate Sukkot.
From this, we can understand that we are not just celebrating the gift of the protective clouds, but the fact that Hashem had the compassion to return them to us after we had sinned. The miraculous protection that had once been revoked was now returned. We can also learn why we celebrate Sukkot at the time we do- just days after we have been forgiven for our sins on Yom Kippur- we celebrate the gift which was returned to Israel after their atonement.
Wishing everyone a Chag Sameach!