The Tur (written by R. Jacob ben Asher 1269-1343) notes in the name of his brother that the three festivals, Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot, correspond to our three forefathers, Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov: Passover corresponds to Avraham because the angels came to visit him on Pesach. (Avraham tells his wife Sarah to make “cakes” for the guests, which our Sages understand to mean matzah,) Shavuot corresponds to Yitzchak, because the shofar blown on Mount Sinai when the Torah was given came from the ram that was brought as a sacrifice instead of Yitzchak. Sukkot corresponds to Yaakov because the Torah says that Yaakov made sukkot, huts, for his cattle.
The connections between Avraham and Pesach and Yitzchak and Shavuot are clear. But what do the huts (סוכות) that Yaakov made for his cattle have to do with the holiday of Sukkot? Did he perhaps make these huts on Sukkot? So far, we don’t know.
To answer this question, we need to understand more about Yaakov and his relationship with his brother, Esav.
Our Sages teach us in the Midrash, that, very early on, Yaakov and Esav, who were so different in temperament from each other, came to an agreement on how they would live in peace together: Esav would take this world, and Yaakov would have the world to come. Esav was interested in this world’s pleasures and had no need for spirituality. Yaakov, on the other hand, was interested in this world only as a tool to earn his place in the world to come.
תנא דבי אליהו זוטא – פרק יט
אמרו רבותינו בעוד כשהיו יעקב ועשו במעי אמן אמר יעקב לעשו: עשו אחי, שני אחים אנחנו לאבינו ושני עולמות יש לפנינו -העולם הזה והעולם הבא. העולם הזה יש בו אכילה ושתיה ומשא מתן ולשאת אשה ולהוליד בנים ובנות. אבל העולם הבא אינו כן בכל המדות הללו. ואם הוא רצונך טול אתה העוה”ז ואני אטול העוה”ב. ומנין שכך הוא שנאמר (בראשית בה) ויאמר יעקב מכרה כיום את בכורתך לי כשם שהיינו אומרים בבטן. באותה שעה נטל עשו בחלקו העוה”ז ויעקב נטל בחלקו העוה”ב. וכשבא יעקב מבית לבן וראה עשו שיש ליעקב נשים ובנים ועבדים ושפחות ובהמות וכסף וזהב, מיד אמר עשו ליעקב יעקב אחי לא כך אמרת לי שתטול אתה העוה”ב ואני אטול העוה”ז ומנין לך כל העוה”ז נשים ובנים וממון עבדים ושפחות. למה אתה משתמש ונהנה מן הדברים שבעוה”ז כמותי?: ואמר לו יעקב לעשו זה מעט הרכוש שנתן לי הקב”ה להשתמש בו לפי הצורך שלי בעוה”ז שנאמר (שם לג) וישא
את עיניו וירא את הנשים ואת הילדים ויאמר מי אלה לך ויאמר הילדים אשר חנן אלהים את עבדך.
When Yaakov tricked his father Yitzchak into giving him the blessings rather than to Esav, Esav vowed to kill Yaakov. Yaakov fled to his uncle Lavan, and, after 22 years, Hashem told Yaakov that it was time to leave Lavan’s house. When Yaakov sent scouts to get a fix on his avowed enemy, they reported that Esav was on his way with 400 warriors to kill him. The two camps were on course to meet the next day.
Yaakov had a three-part plan: He (1) sent Esav an extensive bribe of 550 animals of different types, (2) prayed to Hashem, and then (3) prepared for a physical encounter by spitting his camp into two. If one were hit, the other would survive.
That night, Yaakov crossed back over the river to retrieve a few minor articles that he had left behind. He there met Esav’s angel who wrestled with Yaakov with the goal of killing him. Although he was unable to overcome Yaakov, he did manage to injure Yaakov’s hip.
Why did Esav’s angel attack Yaakov for trying to retrieve a few insignificant items? Our Sages explain that it seemed that Yaakov, to whom these insignificant items had importance, was obsessed with material wealth. This is the issue that Esav has with Yaakov whenever Yaakov changes his role and makes wealth and possessions his purpose in life. That wasn’t the original deal. Yaakov needs to eschew pursuing wealth just for the sake of having wealth. Esav’s angel attacked Yaakov thinking that he could discredit him. The angel, however, got it all wrong. Yaakov remained completely true to his identity even when he returned to retrieve a few insignificant items. For a righteous person sees all of his possessions as tools for service to Hashem and does not allow himself to squander or waste any of his resources. He recognizes that they are all given to him for a purpose.
There is deep significance to the injury the angel inflicted on Yaakov.
The Chofetz Chaim (Rabbi Israel Meir Kagan 1839 – 1933) explains that Yaakov’s thigh symbolizes the supporters of Torah. Just as the thigh supports the body, and Yaakov symbolizes Torah, the injury to Yaakov’s thigh symbolizes that Esav can influence wealthy people who are able to provide funding for Torah study. Such people can unfortunately through the eyes of Esav, see their wealth as an end onto itself and will not give of that wealth to the support of Torah. This is where the angel of Esav has made his mark.
The next day, when the two of them actually met and Esav saw his brother’s great wealth in terms of his many cattle and sheep, and a large family, servants and maidservants, Esav asked him, “Yaakov, I don’t get it! What is all this material wealth that you have? Haven’t you overstepped your bounds? Didn’t we decide that this world would belong to me? You should not be amassing wealth! You should be subsisting on the bare minimum necessary to serve Hashem, shunning any extra. Great wealth is necessary only for those who believe that this world is the important world. What do you need it for?”
Yaakov answered, “I am not using these things for myself! I am using them strictly to serve Hashem! These are the tools that Hashem has given me to use to fulfill my service to Him!
Then Esav asked Yaakov about the gift that Yaakov had sent.
ספר בראשית פרק לג
(ח) וַיֹּאמֶר מִי לְךָ כָּל הַמַּחֲנֶה הַזֶּה אֲשֶׁר פָּגָשְׁתִּי וַיֹּאמֶר לִמְצֹא חֵן בְּעֵינֵי אֲדֹנִי:
(ט) וַיֹּאמֶר עֵשָׂו יֶשׁ לִי רָב אָחִי יְהִי לְךָ אֲשֶׁר לָךְ:
(י) וַיֹּאמֶר יַעֲקֹב אַל נָא אִם נָא מָצָאתִי חֵן בְּעֵינֶיךָ וְלָקַחְתָּ מִנְחָתִי מִיָּדִי כִּי עַל כֵּן רָאִיתִי פָנֶיךָ כִּרְאֹת פְּנֵי אֱלֹקים וַתִּרְצֵנִי:
(יא) קַח נָא אֶת בִּרְכָתִי אֲשֶׁר הֻבָאת לָךְ כִּי חַנַּנִי אֱלֹקים וְכִי יֶשׁ לִי כֹל וַיִּפְצַר בּוֹ וַיִּקָּח:
- Esav asked, “What did you intend by that whole camp that I met?” Yaakov answered, “To gain favor in my lord’s eyes.”
- Esav said, “I have plenty. My brother, let what you have remain yours.”
- But Jacob said, “No, I beg of you! If I have now found favor in your eyes, then accept my tribute, inasmuch as I have seen your face, which is like seeing the face of a Divine being, and you were appeased by me.
- Please accept my gift that was brought to you, inasmuch as G-d has been gracious to me and inasmuch as I have everything.” Yaakov urged Esav, and he accepted:
Notice the difference between Esav’s and Yaakov’s attitudes towards physical possessions. Esav says, “I have plenty,” but I could always use more. In a world that measures success by monetary wealth, there is no limit to how much a person can have; the more the better. Yaakov, however, exclaims “I have everything.” I don’t collect possessions for the sake of having a lot of stuff to call my own. My possessions are tools that I use to serve Hashem. Therefore, whatever I have is exactly what I am supposed to have. I have everything I need to fulfill my purpose in the world.
Our Sages bring this point out in a different place in the Torah.
ספר דברים פרק כה
(טו) אֶבֶן שְׁלֵמָה וָצֶדֶק יִהְיֶה לָּךְ אֵיפָה שְׁלֵמָה וָצֶדֶק יִהְיֶה לָּךְ לְמַעַן יַאֲרִיכוּ יָמֶיךָ עַל הָאֲדָמָה אֲשֶׁר יְדֹוָד אֱלֹקיךָ נֹתֵן לָךְ:
(טז) כִּי תוֹעֲבַת יְדֹוָד אֱלֹקיךָ כָּל עֹשֵׂה אֵלֶּה כֹּל עֹשֵׂה עָוֶל:
(יז) זָכוֹר אֵת אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה לְךָ עֲמָלֵק בַּדֶּרֶךְ בְּצֵאתְכֶם מִמִּצְרָיִם:
- You should have a perfect and honest weight and a perfect and honest measure, so that your days shall be lengthened on the Land that Hashem, your
G-d, gives you:
16.All who do [not do] this, all who act corruptly, are abomination to Hashem, your God:
- Remember what Amalek did to you when you were leaving Egypt.
Our Sages query the proximity of Amalek to the commandments to have honest weights and measures. They answer that if a person uses dishonest weights and measures, Amalek, a descendant of Esav, will pounce on him to punish him. A Jew who cheats in his business dealings displays the dogma of Esav, that monetary wealth is the most important thing despite the laws of the Torah.
Jews have a different perspective than the rest of the Christian world.
Esav says, “We are here for this world to sample and enjoy all the pleasures that it has to offer. To this end, we must amass as much wealth as possible so that we can always afford those pleasures.”
Yaakov, on the other hand, says, “We are in this world as a passageway to the next world. Wealth is a precious tool, which when properly used can earn us a special place in the world to come.” But, as we learned from Yaakov, we must use it wisely and not waste or squander it on frivolous things. There are unlimited expenditure options, but we need to use careful discretion to choose those causes that will further Hashem’s agenda. Wealth’s purpose is to allow us to earn a higher place in the world to come.
As Jews, we are the descendants of Yaakov. But what is the source for saying that the Christian world descends from Esav?
Many verses in the Torah say that say Esav is Edom (Christianity).
The Midrash tells us that the Jewish people will have to go through four exiles, the fourth one being Edom.
They are eluded to in the second verse in Genesis.
ספר בראשית פרק א
(ב) וְהָאָרֶץ הָיְתָה תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ וְחשֶׁךְ עַל פְּנֵי תְהוֹם וְרוּחַ אֱלֹקים מְרַחֶפֶת עַל פְּנֵי הַמָּיִם:
- When the earth was astonishingly empty, with darkness upon the surface of the deep, and the Divine Presence hovered upon the surface of the waters
מדרש רבה בראשית – פרשה ב פסקה ד
(ד) ר”ש בן לקיש פתר קריא בגליות והארץ היתה תהו זה גלות בבל שנאמר (ירמיה ד) ראיתי את הארץ והנה תהו ובהו זה גלות מדי (אסתר ו) ויבהילו להביא את המן וחושך זה גלות יון שהחשיכה עיניהם של ישראל בגזירותיהן שהיתה אומרת להם כתבו על קרן השור שאין לכם חלק באלהי ישראל על פני תהום זה גלות ממלכת הרשעה שאין להם חקר כמו התהום מה התהום הזה אין לו חקר אף הרשעים כן ורוח אלהים מרחפת זה רוחו של מלך המשיח
The first of the four exiles listed is Babylonia, under the kingdom of Nebuchadnezzar, who destroyed the first Holy Temple. Then came the Medes and the story of Purim. Next came the Greeks and the story of Chanukah.
The fourth exile is Edom, the Roman Empire. King Titus, Emperor of the Roman Empire, destroyed the Second Holy Temple, and we are still in exile from that event. Thus, we are considered in the Exile of Edom- Rome – the Roman Catholic Church, which is the last vestige of the Roman Empire. All the flavors of Christianity in the world today come under the umbrella of the Roman Catholic Church. The Midrash continues: that the end of the fourth exile will be the coming of Mashiach whose arrival we anticipate every day.
Because our world situation today is a carry-over from our forefather Yaakov and Esav, those events are especially significant to us. Often, we can understand current events by seeing them in the light of the wisdom shared with us by the Torah long ago.
Additionally, the Yaakov — Esav interactions so many years ago are actually prophetic. Our Sages teach us that those interactions set a template for the future for all time. Yaakov’s challenges from Esav would repeatedly challenge Yaakov’s children throughout the many years that they would be under Esav’s dominion. To secure a successful outcome, we must follow the path that Yaakov, in his great wisdom and foresight, chose. We understand that this is the only correct path to take. I am hoping that as we travel together through the upcoming book of Genesis, I will have the opportunity to bring some of those prophesies to light.
This is the message of the Sukkah.
This world is Sukkah, a temporary dwelling. We are all just passing through. We thus do not invest a lot of money in our Sukkot. We will manage for the seven days. Look at it this way: This world is like a rental property. If you had $10,000 to invest, would you put it into the house you are renting or into your permanent residence? This is the lesson that we learn from Yaakov who made temporary dwellings for his cattle. This was to show that his possessions were temporary and secondary.
A wealthy American businessman was travelling through Europe and made a point of visiting the most important and holy Jew of the time, the Chofetz Chaim. When the businessman entered the Chafetz Chaim’s simple unfurnished home, he was flabbergasted. Here he was in the home of the greatest Jew of that time, and all that he has is a table, a few chairs, and a few beds?
The visitor couldn’t hold back his wonder and asked the holy rabbi, “Rabbi, where is all your furniture?”
The rabbi responded with, “And where is yours?”
The guest replied, “Rabbi, I don’t need it; I am just travelling through.”
The Chofetz Chaim answered, “So am I.”