Why is Succos in Tishrei as opposed to Nissan?

10 10 2011

Naaleh.com presents this special post from Rabbi Beinish Ginsburg discussing why Succot in in Tishrei and not Nissan. Visit Naaleh.com for FREE video and audio classes by Rabbi Ginsburg as well as many other esteemed Torah teachers. You can sign up for Rabbi Ginsburg’s weekly Divrei Torah by sending  an email to beinishginsburg@gmail.com.

Why is Succos in the fall as opposed to the spring? This is a question which many of the Rishonim[i] and Achronim[ii] have dealt with. One opinion in the Gemara (Succah 11b), is that we build succot in order to commemorate the ananei hakavod, the clouds of glory, which Hashem provided for us in the midbar. This is the more widely accepted opinion[iii]. Hashem provided us with the ananei hakavod immediately after we left Mitzrayim, in the spring. So why is the yom tov of Succos delayed until the fall?

One classic answer is offered by the Tur (siman 625). The Tur explains that Hashem wanted the mitzvah to be done in a way that it would be readily apparent that the booths were being put up for the sake of the mitzvah and not for personal convenience. In the spring it is common for people to leave their homes to go out and to live in booths in the shade. So, if the yom tov of Succos ware to be celebrated in the spring, it would not have been readily apparent that we are sitting in the booths for the sake of the mitzvah. Therefore, Hashem gave us the mitzvah in the fall, in Tishrei, at the time when people normally go back into their homes. If a Jew leaves his house to go sit outside in a booth at the beginning of the rainy season, then it is clear that he is doing so only to serve Hashem and not in response to the onset of the summer[iv]. This is the famous approach of the Tur[v].

However, there is a difficulty with this comment of the Tur. The Rambam provides a different reason why Succos is in the fall. The Rambam writes[vi], “In this season it is possible to dwell in tabernacles as there is neither great heat not troublesome rain.” In other words, Succos is in the beginning of the fall because the weather is quite pleasant now- it is not too hot, it is not too cold, and it is not raining yet. Hashem loves His people and He wants the mitzvos to be pleasant for us, therefore Succos is in the fall. Those of us who live in Eretz Yisroel or spend Succos in Eretz Yisroel know that the Rambam is right. The weather is pleasant now. At first glance it is difficult to square this Rambam with the Tur. Based on this, one can ask, what exactly does the Tur mean? How is it more readily apparent that one is sitting in the succah for the sake of the mitzvah when Succos is in the fall as opposed to in the spring?

There are two possible approaches to the Tur. One is that although the weather is pleasant, the rainy season is close and it does rain sometimes. Hashem could have worked it out the weather was even better, that Succos would have been celebated during the best time to go out to the succah. And, since sometimes it does rain and a person would not go out into the booth when it rains, therefore it shows that it is for the sake of the mitzvah. Even if the weather is pleasant at this time of year, it would still be less apparent in the spring that we are building succahs for the sake of the mitzvah.

The other possibility[vii] is that we have to take a new approach to what the Tur meant. It could be that the Tur’s focus is not that the rainy weather already has begun at the time of Succos. But rather that the rainy season is imminent. In the spring, when it is beginning to get hot, it is normal for a person to go outside and build a booth, which he will then use as his summer home, his summer bungalow, for the hot spring and summer. However, a person would not leave his home and build a bungalow in order to use it for a week or two and then run back into the house when the rain begins. That is what is strange about going out into succot now. It is not that the weather is presently unpleasant, but rather it is very close to the beginning of the rainy season. Therefore, it is clear that a person is going out for the sake of a mitzvah and not due to personal conveniences based on the weather conditions.

These are two approaches as to why Succos is in the fall, the approach of the Rambam and the approach of the Tur.

Chag Sameach,

B. Ginsburg


[i] See the Ramban in Vayikra 23, 39-43

[ii]Aruch HaShulchan siman 625

[iii] Rashi (Vayikra 23,43) quotes this view. The Shulchan Aruch (Siman 625) quotes this view as well.

[iv] The language of this paragraph is taken from the Artscroll on Succos, p. 46.

[v] The Tur’s language is, “yireh la’kol she’mitzvas Ha’Melech hi aleinu,” “it should be apparent to all that this is a commandment of Hashem upon us.” The world “la’kol” is striking. Some explain that the Tur here is saying that it should be apparent not only to the Jews, but also to the non-Jews as well. This is the approach of Rav Chanoch Karelenstein zt”l (Kuntres b’Inyanei Succos p. 22).

Rav Karelenstein explains that he thinks that this Tur is hinting to another famous theme of Succos, the connection of goyim to Succos in general. On Succos we offer seventy special korbanos mussaf, the first day thirteen, the second day twelve, going down to seven. Why? Chazal explain that these seventy korbanos correspond to the seventy nations. This reflects the connection of goyim to Succos.

We read in Zecharya (Perek 14; this is the haftorah for the 1st day of Succos) that l’asid la’voh the non-Jews will come to Yerushalayim to celebrate Succos, and if they do not, they will be punished. This is very striking. We do not find sources that l’asid la’voh the goyim will be commanded to celebrate Pesach or Shavuos. This shows a very strong connection between Succos and non-Jews. What is the explanation of this connection?

The meforshim discuss what is the connection between the goyim and Succos?  One approach is as follows. The basic theme of Pesach is that Hashem chose Am Yisroel as the special, chosen nation. On Shavuos we received the Torah. The themes of these yomim tovim are not universalistic in any way. The basic message of Succos, however, is Hashem’s hashgacha over us, over Am Yisroel. Hashem watched over us, guided us, and guarded us in the midbar. We know that the hashgacha over Am Yisroel is very special. But, Hashem governs the non-Jewish world as well. So the idea behind Succos is more universalistic, the idea of hashgacha applies to the non-Jewish world as well. This approach I heard from Rav Leff shli”ta, and Rav Karelenstein zt”l has a similar approach.

Rav Karelenstein quotes another beautiful remez for the connection of goyim to Succos. The minimum size of a wall of a succah is ten tefachim tall and at least 7 tefachim across. Ten times seven equals seventy. Rabbeinu Bachya says that this is a remez to the seventy nations (Sefer Kad Hakemach, Os Samech).

Rav Karlenstein maintains that the Tur is hinting that we want to perform the mitzvah of Succah in a way that everyone knows that it is for the sake of Hashem, including the non-Jews. Why? Because the theme of Succos has a connection with the non-Jewish world as well. A fascinating chiddush from Rav Karelenstein.

[vi] Moreh Nevuchim part 3 chapter 43

[vii]  I mentioned this approach to Rav Nevenzahl shli”ta, and he said ‘Efshar this is the correct pshat in the Tur.’

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