"וּלְקַחְתֶּם לָכֶם בַּיּוֹם הָרִאשׁוֹן" “And you shall take for yourselves on the first day”(Vayikra 23:40). So the pasuk begins, describing the mitzvah of Arba Minim, the Four Species. Chazal teach us that each one of these species represent a different type of Jew. The Esrog, which has both a pleasant smell and taste, represents a Jew who both learns Torah and does mitzvos. The Aravos, willow branches, have neither taste nor smell and represents a Jew with neither Torah nor mitzvos. The Hadasim, myrtle branches, have a pleasant smell and represents someone who does mitzvos but does not learn Torah, while the Lulav, the palm branch, has a taste but no smell and represent someone who learns Torah but does not do mitzvos.
On Succos we tie all four of these species together and wave them and if you are missing one of the four, you have not fulfilled the mitzvah. The significance here is clear, on Succos we stress the importance of Achdus, unity, in Klal Yisrael. In the time of the Beis Hamikdash, Jews of all types from all over the world would come to Yerushalayim to celebrate together. Especially after Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and having done teshuvah, on Succos it is important that we work on our Bein Adam L’Chaveiro, relationships between our fellow man, to show that we are committed to our promises we made to become better people.
Another mitzvah done at Succos time is the mitzvah of Hak’el. Moshe tells Bnei Yisrael about this mitzvah in Parshas Vayeilech (see Devarim 31:10-13). During the Succos immediately following the Shmittah year, the nation would gather together in the Beis Hamikdash and listen to the king read the entire Sefer Devarim. The pasuk specifically mentions that this mitzvah is for everyone, including men, women, and even small children. Rashi brings the gemarah is Chagigah(3a) which explains that the men come to learn, the women come to hear, and the kids are brought in order to give שכר, merit, to the ones who brought them.
The Kli Yakar that this reasoning does not make sense, if the children are brought to give שכר to the ones who brought them, if their parents had brought a bundle of wood instead they also would have been rewarded for that? There must be a reason why they should bring the children specifically.
He brings a medrash that says that the first day of Succos is the first day after Yom Kippur that Aveiros are counted. They bring a proof from the pasuk of “וּלְקַחְתֶּם לָכֶם בַּיּוֹם הָרִאשׁוֹן” that we brought earlier. The pasuk use the words “בַּיּוֹם הָרִאשׁוֹן” “on the first day” even though Succos starts on the fifteenth of the month! Rather, the pasuk is coming to show me this explanation. (This is the midrashic interpretation. The way we explained this pasuk earlier is still the simple way to understand the pasuk.) The days between Yom Kippur and Succos are so filled up with the mitzvos of preparing for Yom Tov, building the Sukkah and buying Arba Minim that there is no time to do Aveiros, so the first day you even have an opportunity for them is the first day of Succos.
Because of this, Succos becomes a time of preparation, preparation for a new teshuvah. During the year, Hashem accepts teshuvah only from congregations of people davening together for each other, but during the Aseres Yimei Teshuvah, even the teshuvah of a single person is accepted. So when Succos starts, we must join together as a group in order that Hashem will continue to favor us even when we eventually sin. This is the reason we take the Arba Minim on Succos and even more so on the first day. “וּלְקַחְתֶּם לָכֶם בַּיּוֹם הָרִאשׁוֹן”, on this first day when Aveiros become reality again after the awesome day of Yom Kippur, we most join together with all different types of Jews to become united in teshuvah. Our Achdus becomes extremely important at this time and because of this we work hard on it during the Chag.
Hak’el does the same thing in promoting Achdus. Immediately after Shmittah, everyone feels like they are in the same boat, the poor people have not been able to collect their normal Tzedakah from the fields and the rich people have also had to make do with much less then they are used to since they did not plant anything. What better time to promote unity in Klal Yisrael then when everyone feels and understands their friend’s situation! And Succos is the perfect time as well, when everyone has left their homes, be they big or small, and is living in temporary huts. Everyone is once again in the same situation. This is why we read Sefer Devarim which has all the pesukim of Teshuvah. And this is also why we bring the children to Hak’el, so Hashem should have mercy on the children if not on us, thus giving שכר to the ones who brought them!
During the Aseres Yimei Teshuvah, we asked Hashem for ourselves, for our families, our friends, neighbors, people who are close to us and involved with our lives. Succos is the time when we branch out, when we start thinking about the big picture, when we think more about the entire Jewish People as one. When you would come to the Beis Hamikdash for Yom Tov, the scene that immediately hit you was the thousands and thousands of Jews all coming together for the same reason, to celebrate the Chag in the holiest place on Earth. At that time, the entire nation came together in unity, in Achdus. Even though we don’t have the Beis Hamikdash nowadays, Succos still represents that time, the time when we all live in temporary houses, when we have just finished a Yom Kippur and have a clean slate for the new year, the time when we must join together with all Jews in a show of Achdus. With that, we will surely merit a final and complete teshuvah and the Geulah speedily in our times.
Click here to see last year's Dvar Torah for Succos