Berkeley-based Orthodox rabbi and mohel Chanan Feld, who is unable to work or speak due to complications of oral cancer, has issued a message for the Succot holiday that starts tonight.
Succot is often called the Harvest holiday. But what are we really harvesting?
In parshas Re’eh, the Torah describes Succot: "You shall make the festival of Succot for yourself for seven days, when you bring in the produce from your threshing floor and winepress." (Devarim 16:13)
The Gemara in Succah derives from this the following halacha: Since the verse emphasizes "from your threshing floor and winepress," that is detached vegetation, only detached vegetation may be used to roof the Succah (scach), but not anything still connected in some way to its source. What possibly can be the underlying meaning of this halachah?
In Shemos 23:16 Succot is described as "the harvest festival, at the end of the year, when you bring in your produce from the field."
We are gathering in produce of the field, our threshing floor and winepress.
In Chassidic thought, we work on the principle that everything in the physical plane has its spiritual counterpart. It follows, if Succot is the physical harvest or ingathering, it must be a similar time for spiritual activities. What are the fruits of a Jew’s spiritual labor? Mitzvot, Torah study, and acts of chesed. These can be reaped on Succot.
Keep in mind, on the physical level, its not just the fruit from the field that is harvested, but the threshing floor and winepress. Course grain, winnowed to remove the bran…is brought into the granary. Spiritually speaking, the same refinement process occurs with the fruits of our spiritual labor. Before they’re brought to their place for storage, any impure thoughts or impure motives must be expunged.
For most of us it is a new mindset, to apply this to more than our personal actions, but rather to all individual mitzvot and acts of chesed.
We’ve been through Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, and now our deeds have been scrutinized and cleansed of any taint of impurity, leaving behind pristine, undefiled mitzvot. Succot has arrived, and it’s time to do some spiritual reaping. The sum total of this ingathering is the real person, which represents what he has made of himself after layers of dross have been removed, leaving an honest account for what type of person he will be to face the new year.
Our deeds have been husked, hulled, and shucked, pared down to the essential. Look up at the scach. Pieces of vegetation severed from their source, leaving the main plant behind. It reminds us that we have freed ourselves from all impurities and we can start a year with our true selves in control, striving for more closeness in our service of HaShem.
May it be so!