The Tur writes (O.C. 417) that the Shalosh Regalim, Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot, correspond to the three Avot, Avraham, Yitchak, and Yaakov. A very fundamental question therefore arises: how does each Regel connect to its corresponding forefather, specifically Sukkot and Yaakov Avinu?
In Parashat VaYishlach, as Yaakov is preparing himself for an encounter with his brother, Eisav, he finds himself making several trips transporting his family possessions over the Yabok River. As Yaakov makes his last trip, he is confronted by a Malach (explained by Chazal to be the Malach of Esav) and they wrestle throughout the night. The Gemara (Chulin 91a), quoting Rabi Elazar, mentions that the reason why Yaakov was alone when he met the Malach was for some small jars. It then teaches that we learn from this act that Tzadikim care more about their monetary possessions than their own bodies.
This Gemara seems to go against one’s typical notion that Tzadikim separate themselves from their material possessions? How can it be that Tzadikim care so much about their worldly items?
Rav Chaim Vital illustrates a story that I think can shed light upon the answer to this question:
There was once a poor man who was very careful in his observance of all of the Mitzvot. However, he was so poor that he did not possess a decent cup and basin with which he could wash his hands at the necessary times. One night, he dreamt that Hashem saw the extent of his destitution, his lack of washing set, and his desire to own one, and Hashem then gave him a cup and a basin. Upon arising in the morning, lying on the floor next him was the exact same basin and cup which he saw in his dream. The man understood that this was clearly a gift from God, and he treasured it greatly. Soon after, the man's fortune changed. He became wealthy, and undertook a refurbishing of his house. Upon the completion of the work, however, the man made one final inspection of the house and noticed that that washing set was missing. He ordered the workers to search through everything until it was found. The workers were successful in their search, but perplexed over the findings. They had assumed this must be a precious cup and basin, fashioned from silver or the like, and that is why the man was worried about its loss. The cup they found, however, was tin and dented, and they could not fathom why the man was so distressed about the loss. After questioning the man, they received a single response: "If God Himself had given you something, wouldn't that be the most precious item you possess?!" Rav Chaim Vital explains that it is this attitude that Yaakov Avinu and all Tzadikim share. They realize that all of their possessions were given to them by HaKadosh Baruch Hu to help them better serve Him, and they must treasure them.
The Rambam writes (Hilchot Teshuva 9:1) that those who serve Hashem and perform the Mitzvot with joy and pleasure, will not only merit a life of eternity in Olam HaBa, but will also not be afflicted by illness, war, famine, etc. in this world. The Rambam explains that Hashem will not put such individuals in a situation that might prevent them from performing the Mitzvot and serving Him. Furthermore, the Rambam notes that Hashem will provide plenty, peace, richness, etc. to these individuals so that they will not have to occupy themselves so extensively in satisfying their bodily needs. They will therefore, be free to sit, learn and serve Hashem, in order to merit a perpetual life in Olam Habbah.
Furthermore, the Gemara in Pesachim (68b) quotes a dispute regarding how one should spend his time on Yom Tov. Rabi Eliezer holds that one should either partake in activities that are “LaShem” (learning, davening) or activities that are primarily “Lachem” (eating, drinking, sleeping). Rabi Yehoshua holds, however, that one should have a more balanced Yom Tov experience by involving oneself in both types of activities. The Gemara then goes on to give three exceptions when even Rabi Eliezer agrees that one should pursue both kinds of activities. The three exceptions are: Shabbat, Purim, and Shavuot. We can understand why one cannot be devoid of physical or spiritual activities on Shabbat and Purim; each has Halachot pertaining to both spirituality and physicality. However, why can’t we say that on Shavuot one should only focus on Hashem? After all, wouldn’t learning and Davening be most appropriate on the anniversary of Kabalat HaTorah?
Rav David Nachbar, a Rebbe at TABC, once explained this Gemara in the following way: If one could only learn and daven on Shavuot, commemorating the pinnacle of Avodat Hashem, then he might think that the only way to serve Hashem is through purely spiritual activities. However, this is simply not the case; it is requiem to serve him in physical ways as well. This Gemara teaches that Hashem provides a physical side to thisworld so that we can best serve Him.
The Rambam writes (Hilchot Dei’ot 3:2) that whenever one partakes in a physical activity (such as eating, drinking, standing, sitting, marital relations, etc.), one must bear in mind that he pursues such activities so that he will remain healthy and therefore, be better equipped to serve Hashem. On the other hand, the Rambam also notes (Hilchot Dei’ot 3:1) that it is forbidden for someone to separate himself from the physicality. He goes so far to call such a person a sinner.
Chag HaSukkot is a time when we leave our homes and venture outside into a Sukkah. The Sukkah should is meant to serve as a reminder that just as Hashem provided huts for Bnei Yisrael while in the Midbar, so too does He provide us with our necessities. The Torah tells us that Yaakov made "Sukkot" for his possessions; for himself, however, he built a home. The Targum Yonatan interprets this not as an actual house, but rather a Beit Midrash. Yaakov had proper priorities and valued his possessions for the right reasons. He invested his money in that which has permanence, a house of learning, while providing only a temporary shelter for his "temporary" possessions. Like Yaakov’s, our Sukkot should teach us the same lesson. We must appreciate, right after the conclusion of the Yamim Nora’im, our purpose on this earth. We must value our possessions for the same reasons Yaakov did – namely, to allow us to serve Hashem.