Unraveling the Mystery of the Ma'aravis - First Night of Sukkos
The Ma’aravis (piyut/hymn recited at Ma’ariv) for the first night of Sukkos, composed by Rabbi Yosef Tuv-Elem, the eminent sage of medieval France, commences:
“Those who hold the Arba’ah Minim (Four Species) in their hands come to praise You with the flute and various instruments.”
This reference to praising Hashem with multiple instruments seems to be an allusion to the Simchas Beis Ha-Sho’eivah celebration in the Beis Ha-Mikdash during Sukkos, in which a massive array of instruments was played by the Levi’im to accompany jubilant songs of praise to Hashem, as part of the ecstatic and sacred occasion. (V. Gemara Sukkah 51a-b.)
The next paragraph of the Ma’aravis starts:
“Those who study the Torah, which was chosen from the beginning, and come to dwell in the sukkah for seven days – provide them with merit and shelter them…”
What does Torah learning have to do with the sukkah, such that the Ma’aravis implies that Torah study leads to dwelling in the sukkah? And in the first section of the Ma’aravis, what is the relationship between holding the Arba’ah Minim and Simchas Beis Ha-Sho’eivah, the latter of which was an evening and overnight event, at which time the Arba’ah Minim were not held?
The Rambam (Sefer Ha-Mitzvos M.A. 169, Koseres of Hil. Lulav, Hil. Lulav 7:13) indicates that the primary mitzvah of Arba’ah Minim is that of taking the Four Species in the Mikdash all seven days of Sukkos, invoking the pasuk (Vayikra 23:40): “And you shall rejoice before Hashem your God for seven days”. The Biblical command to take the Arba’ah Minim only on the first day of Sukkos everywhere else (the mitzvah of Arba’ah Minim outside of the Mikdash for days two through seven is Rabbinic) appears from the words of the Rambam to be a limited extension of the full-blown seven-day mitzvah of Arba’ah Minim in the Mikdash. (The one-day Biblical mitzvah that applies everywhere may nonetheless have its own unique character, despite its being an extension of the seven-day mitzvah in the Mikdash; please see section 2 here.)
Regarding Simchas Beis Ha-Sho’eivah, the Rambam writes (Hil. Lulav 8:12): “On the holiday of Sukkos, there occurred in the Mikdash an extraordinary simcha, as it is written, ‘And you shall rejoice before Hashem your God for seven days.’” The Rambam here quotes the same exact pasuk which mandates taking the Arba’ah Minim in the Mikdash. Why is this? And how can the same pasuk serve as the source for two totally different mitzvos?
The answer appears to be that taking the Arba’ah Minim in the Mikdash, before the Presence of Hashem, is a manifestation of simcha, and that same experience of simcha before the Presence of Hashem is engendered by the Simchas Beis Ha-Sho’eivah. Both Arba’ah Minim and Simchas Beis Ha-Sho’eivah bring one joyfully before the Shechinah, in the Mikdash, for the seven days of Sukkos. The same pasuk thus encompasses both of these mitzvos, since they share the same underpinning.
Furthermore, even one who is far from the Mikdash and who is Biblically bound to take the Arba’ah Minim for only one day is included in the awesome experience of being in a state of simcha in the Mikdash before Hashem, for his mitzvah is an extension of the primary mitzvah of Arba’ah Minim in the Mikdash, which is denoted by “and you shall rejoice before Hashem your God for seven days.”
This is the meaning of the initial segment of the Ma’aravis: “Those who hold the Arba’ah Minim (Four Species) in their hands” – including performance of the brief, simple one-day Biblical mitzvah, far from the Mikdash – “come to praise You with the flute and various instruments” – they are transported to stand before You in simcha, encountering Your Presence in the Mikdash, even from thousands of miles away.
A similar concept explains the second section of the Ma’aravis: “Those who study the Torah, which was chosen from the beginning, and come to dwell in the sukkah for seven days…” Chazal tell us in many places that the Shechinah is with one who learns Torah. The sukkah, which in our liturgy is compared with the Beis Ha-Mikdash (e.g. “Sukkas Dovid”), is likewise a locus of Hashra’as Ha-Shechinah, the manifestation of Hashem’s Presence. The Ma’aravis hence describes the exceptional power of Torah learning, such that it brings one to dwell in the veil of the Shechinah, as embodied by the sukkah.
After the purification of Yom Kippur, we merit to enter and remain in the abode of Hashem, seeing things from the inside, as it were. Technical actions such as taking the Arba’ah Minim and studying Torah are revealed to be means by which we commune intimately with Hashem, based on our glimpse from the inside.
A good Yom Tov to all.