The holiday of Sukkos is at the end of a marathon of yuntifs. It’s a unique holiday, being a part of the Shalosh Regalim with Pesach and Shavuos, and also being immediately following the Yamim Noraim. Although it’s a wonderful holiday, there seems to be something a bit off about this particular Chag. What is so special about Sukkos that we’re celebrating an entire holiday dedicated to the huts that the Jewish people lived in while traversing through the desert after they left Egypt? This is a question posed by many, including Rabbi Chaim HaKohen Fatchia, (the Chalban), who goes even further to say that it seems that there’s a “problem” with the nature of the holiday itself. He writes that Pesach and Shavuos commemorate clear events, seminal moments in the course of the Jewish people (the former being the Exodus from Egypt and the latter being Matan Torah). These were no ordinary days. The Chalban notes that the very verse in the Torah that alludes to this festival, is really pointing out that we are to sit in Sukkot for seven days, as a means of hearkening back to a singular part of yetzias Mitzrayim, a general time to which we have an entire holiday devoted. Furthermore, he continues, why is there no yuntif commemorating the mahn that descended from the sky, or for the water that came from the rock?
Rabbi Eliezer explains (Sukkah 11b) that the sukkah is an allusion to the Ananei HaKavod, the Clouds of Glory that were created by God to guide Bnai Yisrael as they wandered from Egypt through the desert. If we take this approach to heart, that the sukkah is zeicher l’Ananei HaKavod, we can come up with a similar question as we originally had. Do the Ananei HaKavod themselves merit an entire holiday?
Rav Asher Weiss (Minchas Asher Sichos al HaMoadim vol. 1) explains that although they may seem too trivial to be the source of a yuntif, the Ananei HaKavod were a true gift from Hashem. This matanah differed greatly from the mahn or the water from the rock because those, in essence, cannot be considered gifts. Food and water are absolute necessities for life, explains the Minchas Asher. God providing Bnai Yisrael with food and water, truly miraculous events, would not bring about a separate holiday. The Ananei HaKavod provided something for the Jewish people that they could have lived without, yet, Hashem gave them anyway to enhance their journey to the land of Israel. For this, says Rav Asher Weiss, we celebrate the Clouds of Glory by themselves with a separate holiday.
Rav Avraham Schorr (HaLekach VeHalibuv Sukkos) adds an exclamation point to the significance of the Ananei HaKavod. The holiday itself was not just commemorating the existence of the Clouds of Glory, but the fact that they returned within Bnai Yisrael on the 15th of Tishrei, the first day of Sukkos. Rav Schorr, in longer essay, writes that the entire holiday of Sukkos is a tikkun for cheit ha’eigel. He quotes the Gr”a on Shir HaShirim who writes that at the time of the sin of the golden calf, the Clouds of Glory completely disappeared from Bnai Yisrael. Moshe Rabbeinu descended from Har Sinai with the second set of luchos on Yom Kippur, and on the next day, the 11th of Tishrei, gave the command to the Jewish people that they were to build the Mishkan. For the next two days (Tishrei 12 and 13), the people brought the items needed to construct the Tabernacle which they had just been commanded to build. This continued on the 14th day of Tishrei when the Chachmei Lev took stock of all that had been donated. Finally, on the 15th day of Tishrei, the construction began, and it was then that the Ananei HaKavod came back to the Israelite camp.
It’s interesting to note that even after Moshe beseeches God to take Bnai Yisrael back into His good graces, in addition to forgiving them for their egregious sin, the Ananei HaKavod only reappeared when the Jewish people took tangible steps toward mending their relationship with the Almighty.