After the rigors of the holiday season, one would be inclined to take a week off and relax. However, this is not what we do. Instead, we build clubhouses — which don’t even have a normal roof — and live in them for eight days, while we walk around with a date palm, a citron, myrtle branches and willow twigs. What is the meaning of this?
In the Torah, the laws of Sukkos are given with the rejoinder “You shall rejoice on your festivals with your family etc… and you shall be joyous” (Deut. Ch.16 Vs.15-16). Why on this specific holiday are we commanded to be joyous?
Sukkos is the only Jewish holiday that is not commemorating an event that happened on a specific day. Rather Sukkos celebrates the shelter G-d provided for us during our forty-year sojourn in the desert, when He surrounded us with clouds to protect us from the elements. Why now of all times?
On Rosh Hashanah we come and crown G-d as King. Once we have done that and clarified for ourselves who G-d is, we are ready to approach G-d, and return to Him. Once we have done that we reach a new level: clarity. And this clarity leads to true happiness. This holiday could have been celebrated anytime. But G-d specifically chose a time of year when we strive to grow and leave our mistakes and pettiness behind. A time of year when we make true resolutions to become better people. A time when we achieve closeness to G-d like no other time. Coming off this spiritual high, we leave our house, much like a love struck man or woman after marriage goes on a honeymoon. We leave our house and move outside into a house with G-d. And we place our complete confidence that, much as G-d took care of our ancestors in the desert so many years ago, He will take care of us now. The reason we have a roof such as we do, a temporary one, made of sticks or branches, is to remind us of that time spent in the desert. As the verse states (Lev. Ch.23 V.43): So that your generations will know that I caused the Children of Israel to dwell in booths when I took them from the Land of Egypt; I am your G-d.
The reason we use these four species is they are considered our weapons: The Talmud relates we know the Jewish people have been victorious in their prayers on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, by virtue of the fact that they walk in holding “weapons”—the four species. How are these weapons, and in which war were we victorious? The victory is over our evil inclination, which urges us to be mundane, the opposite of special. The species are our weapons against this. One of the many meanings of the four species is that they signify the four types of Jew. The citron (esrog) which smells and tastes good, signifies the Jew who is a scholar and performs good deeds. The date palm (lulav) which has a good taste but no odor signifies the scholar, but without good deeds. The fragrant but inedible myrtle branch (hadas) signifies the Jew who has good deeds but is not a scholar, and the willow branch (aravah) which has neither taste or fragrance signifies a Jew who sadly has neither scholarship or good deeds. But on Sukkos we grasp all four of these species together. This signifies the unity of the Jewish people, and the hope that through coming into contact with one another, all will be enhanced. Even the citron which smells and tastes good, the date palm, which has taste, and the myrtle, which has smell, are unable to complete this commandment until they are with the willow, which has neither taste or smell, thus teaching us there is something to be gained from every Jew.
May we all merit to feel in the Sukkah as our ancestors felt in the desert while under the protection of G-d.