As the Yom Tov season comes to a close, we choose to end it on a high note. We begin the lengthy cycle of reading the entire Torah again. The question that lingers is why restart now? Why start reading the opening Parashiyot of the Torah in Chodesh Tishrei? After all, there is a lengthy discussion in the first Perek of Mesechet Rosh HaShanah as to when we should start the New Year. Should it be Chodesh Tishrei, or should it be in Chodesh Nissan, when we actually became a people? Why not start the cycle in Nissan instead?
As a general rule of thumb when studying Chumash, even if two juxtaposed sections of the Torah seem entirely unrelated, if one looks hard enough, one can find the significance behind their juxtaposition. This rule can be applied by the juxtaposition of the conclusion of Yom Tov and the month of Tishrei to the end of the cycle of Torah reading and the beginning of a new one. If one looks carefully enough, he will see that there really is a common lesson between the two.
A philosophically challenging Gemara emerges in Mesechet Avodah Zarah (3a). The nations of the world come to Hashem and ask Him to give them a Mitzvah to perform. Hashem responds, “I have an easy mitzvah for you: Sukkah.” As everyone builds their Sukkot, Hashem seems to do something incredibly bizarre. He extends the summer into Sukkot so that it is very hot on Yom Tov forcing everyone to leave their Sukkot and kick their Sukkot down on the way out. The Gemara concludes that the issue was not that they left their Sukkot. They were excused because they were Mitzta’eir, uncomfortable, and Halacha states that one who is uncomfortable may leave the Sukkah. Rather, the issue was the fact that they kicked their Sukkot down.
When one examines the Gemara’s story, one has to wonder, who would blame them?. Based on the description of the Gemara, the situation was “rigged” in the first place! The Midrash Rabbah on BeReishit (1:1) states, “HaKadosh Baruch Hu Mabit BaTorah UVara Et HaOlam,” “Hashem looked into the Torah before creating the world.” This implies that Hashem built the world and its conditions so that Mitzvot can be performed properly. In light of this, the Gemara appears to make no sense!
Rambam in his Peirush HaMishnayot to the last Perek of Mesechet Rosh HaShanah states that the Yamim Nora’im are days of, “Hachna’ah Lifnei Hashem VeYir’ah Mimenu UNesi’ah Eilav,” “Humility where we are afraid of Hashem and flock to him.” This, explains Rambam, is why Hallel is not recited on these days. Despite the fear that we might have on Rosh HaShanah about our futures, the novelty of Rambam is that we should not run away from God out of fear, but rather towards God. With a Pitka Tovah, a good judgment, in hand, Hashem embraces us with the Sukkah. There is a famous Chassidic idea that the walls of a Sukkah embrace us and physically encircle us just like the Kedushah that surrounds us. Since we are not capable of absorbing this Kedushah, we require a physical substitute. We recite in the Shemoneh Esrei of Yom Tov, “Atah Vechartanu MiKol HaAmim Ahavta Otanu VeRatzita Vanu,” "You chose us from all of the nations, You loved us and wanted us." To some effect, Hashem says to us on Sukkot that He wants us around, because He sees good in us. He allows us to see what is good in our lives and absorb it so that we can help others.
What was the real mistake of the nations of the world in the story presented in Mesechet Avodah Zarah? It is true; it must have been very hot in their Sukkot. However, they failed to look around and recognize where they were, where they should have been, and Who was with them. The Mitzvah of Sukkah is only a temporary one. In all likelihood, they all had homes to go back to and they all had their families beside them. The Sukkah was meant to be an experience to open their eyes to the good in their lives. But they walked out of their Sukkot with only disgust and anger. They failed to understand what to look for in life. Instead of finding the good within themselves and the circumstances around them, they instead focused on the untreated anger that dwelled within and unleashed it. The Sukkah is Hashem’s way of telling us that He has found good in us, and that He allows us to look around and see the good around us.
Throughout the first two Parashiyot of the Torah, the Pesukim follow a general theme of Hashem creating something and finding favor in it. The first Pasuk in this week’s Parashah begins, “Eileh Toledot Noach,” ”These are the descendants of Noach” (Bereishit 6:9). The Pasuk seems to indicate that the story will begin with the sons of Noach, since they are the first of his descendants. However, the second half of the Pasuk talks only about Noach, but not his sons. Why is he the one discussed in the Pasuk? Rav Shimshon Refael Hirsch offers a very interesting insight. He writes that the word “Eileh” indicates a new section in the Torah, predicting the destruction of the world and Noach essentially becoming the second Adam HaRishon. Noach made it his duty not to become wicked like those around him and by extension making the world a better place. Hashem saw that he was a Tzadik Tamim, a simple righteous person. Noach sees that he will be spared from the flood and that he will be the one who merits restarting the world. When one looks to find the good within himself and improves himself and enriches the lives of those around him, Hashem will reciprocate many times over by allowing him to see all that is good and allow him to live a happy life.