At the beginning of his section on Hilchot Sukkah, the Tur asks: Why is Sukkot celebrated in the month of Tishrei? After all, it commemorates God’s sheltering us in the Ananei Hakavod, the Clouds of Glory, in the wilderness, but that began in the month of Nisan, the furthest month from Tishrei! He answers that if Sukkot were to occur in Nisan or thereabouts, people would not recognize that what we are doing is a Mitzvah; rather, they would attribute it to the warm weather that allows people to sit outside. Instead, we sit in our Sukkot when cold weather is beginning, so others will see that we sit outside not because of the weather but because we want to fulfill a mitzvah.
However, one must wonder why we care what others think our motives are. Of course, there are some cases in which the purpose of the Mitzvah is to publicize an event, with reading the Megillah and lighting the Menorah being prime examples. However, Sukkah is not one of these Mitzvot. It thus seems illogical to say that there is an aspect of the Sukkah that is designed to inform the public that we are, in fact, fulfilling a Mitzvah.
The first step in understanding the Tur’s answer is understanding another explanation of why Sukkot occurs when it does. Rashbam explains that Sukkot falls out during the harvest season, when a farmer finally sees the fruits of a year’s hard labor. It is at this time that he is most susceptible to thinking that he alone is responsible for accomplishing everything that he has. He may forget that Hashem has helped him every step of the way. Sukkot is a time when we leave our strong, permanent dwellings and live in houses covered with the flimsiest of materials. The lesson Sukkot imparts to us is that we are as dependent on Hashem year-round as we are while living in a fragile hut.
Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch amplifies this idea by pointing out that while the walls, which separate people, can be made out of any material we choose, the covering, which separates us from God, is always made of the same brittle materials. Similarly, we may have houses of different types and strengths, but in the end, we are all separated from Hashem by a very thin layer. No matter how many fences we put up or security systems we install, we also need Divine protection to be truly safe – can a full-size team of armed guards stop an earthquake or tornado?
Rav Hirsch adds a very interesting point in that the Sukkah must be large enough to accommodate a person and his table, representing the fact that both our safety (demonstrated by one’s person) and our sustenance (demonstrated by the food on the table) are dependent on Hashem’s mercy. God can send rain that spoils the food or sunshine that ripens fruit. If one truly understands the symbolism of the Sukkah, one can avoid thinking that “Kochi Veotzem Yadi Asah Li Et Hachayil Hazeh,” “My strength and the might of my hand gained me all this wealth” (Devarim 8:17). Instead, one will see the Hand of God in his successes.
If this is the case, we can now see that Sukkot is a time when we demonstrate our trust in Hashem to grant us safety and success. But this cannot merely be an idea important to us, that we express for ourselves; rather, it should be a demonstration of faith to the public – in other words, we must publicize our performance of the Mitzvah of Sukkah. This point can be clarified by the famous statement of the Chachamim that the Lulav, Hadasim, Etrog, and Aravot represent the four types of Jews: those with Mitzvot but no Torah, those with Torah but no Mitzvot, those with both, and those with neither, respectively. On Sukkot, we gather all four types together. It is clear from Chazal, then, that Sukkot is a time of inclusion, when we try to bring in all Jews. On Sukkot, we realize that our Avodat Hashem is incomplete unless everyone is included. Therefore, we want to make it very clear to everyone that we are doing the Mitzvah of Sukkah so that they, too, can become involved.
Perhaps we can say that there is even more significance in the placement of Sukkot almost immediately after Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. According to Kabbalistic literature, Hoshana Rabbah, the last day of Sukkot, is also the day when the decrees for the new year are executed. Hence, we have until the end of Sukkot to change our fate for the new year. On Sukkot, we try to include everyone in our Avodat Hashem because a Jew does not exist in a vacuum; we are judged both as individuals and as a nation. When we involve others in the Mitzvah of Sukkah, we are displaying that we all know that God controls our welfare and our destiny. This is especially important because Sukkot is the time when we are judged regarding rainfall for the coming year (Mishnah, Rosh Hashanah 1:2). Since rain is essential to the growth of food, we are effectively being judged as to whether we will have sustenance. In order to merit God’s help in acquiring our sustenance, we must all display our belief that He is the sole provider. Thus, it is only through a united acknowledgement of our dependence on Hashem that we can be successful in our final appeal.