The mitzva to dwell in a sukka is special in that it sanctifies routine life. When one eats and drinks, converses and sleeps in a sukka, it exalts and sanctifies these mundane acts, turning them into a mitzva. The kabbalists allude to this when they explain that the light of the sukka is an “enveloping” or “surrounding” light (“or makif”), as contrasted with the light of most mitzvot (including the four species), which is an “inner light.” Let us explain further:
The light that radiates from God is above and beyond our capacity to absorb and contain. We can thus speak of two parts: inner light (“or penimi”) and enveloping light. Inner light is the less powerful part, which we can absorb through thought and emotion. The more powerful part, which is beyond our ability to absorb, becomes a light that envelops us; although we cannot contain it, it surrounds us and gives us inspiration that deeply affects our lives.
The inner light allows us to exalt and sanctify the more obviously spiritual aspects of our lives. It is revealed by means of Torah study, prayer, and primarily mitzvot between one and God, which connect people to that which is beyond the mundane; their sanctity is more apparent. From the perspective of the inner light, the more spiritual something is, the higher a level it is on, and in contrast, the more practical and routine something is, the lower a level it is on. The four species allude to this, as we take them solely to fulfill a mitzva (below, 4:2-3).
Through the much greater or makif, on the other hand, we can repair and elevate the material and routine parts of life as well. This great light is revealed when faith and Torah illuminate mundane life: eating, drinking, sleeping, family life, interpersonal relationships, work, commerce, and scientific research. This is the primary mission of the Jewish people: to reveal to the world that God is one, in heaven and on earth, and that even mundane matters are connected to holiness. The mitzva of sukka alludes to this, as everything we do inside the sukka is sanctified and transformed into a mitzva, thus revealing a profound secret of faith (Zohar II 186b).
In this way, the mitzva of sukka is similar to the mitzva of settling Eretz Yisrael. Both of these mitzvot envelop us. When we enter into their holy atmosphere, our mundane activities are sanctified. The Vilna Gaon (Kol Ha-tor 1:7) says that there is an allusion to this connection in the verse, “Salem became His abode (sukko); Zion, His den” (Tehilim 76:3). Similarly, as we said above (section 2), the primary joy of Sukkot is celebrating our inheriting the land (Abarbanel to Devarim 16:13). These two mitzvot in particular reveal the special qualities of Israel, for the unique aspect of Israel is revealing sanctity on earth (see Avoda Zara 3b).
These two mitzvot complement one another. The sukka commemorates the clouds of glory, through which the Shekhina was revealed in the wilderness, as we read, “They turned toward the wilderness, and there, in a cloud, appeared the glory of the Lord” (Shemot 16:10). Similarly, we read that at Mount Sinai there was “a dense cloud upon the mountain” (ibid. 19:16), and that when God revealed Himself to Moshe, “The Lord came down in a cloud; He stood with him there” (ibid. 34:5). The reason the Shekhina revealed itself in the wilderness in the thick of the cloud is because we had not yet merited entering the Holy Land, where everything is linked to holiness. After we entered the land, our job became revealing the Shekhina in the land, such that everything we do is infused with the Divine Presence. However, there is a risk that when we busy ourselves with the practicalities of daily life in Eretz Yisrael, we will forget to focus on the holy. God gave us Sukkot as a constant reminder of the clouds of glory, the presence of the Shekhina, and the sacred mission of the Jewish people to reveal holiness within the world of action.
Revealing the holiness of Sukkot and Eretz Yisrael will bring the world to its complete perfection, as it is written: “In all of My sacred mount nothing evil or vile shall be done; for the land shall be filled with devotion to the Lord as water covers the sea” (Yeshayahu 11:9). This will also lead to world peace, as we read, “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, the leopard lie down with the kid” (ibid. 11:6). A similar sentiment is expressed in the chapter of Zechariah dealing with redemption and Sukkot: “And the Lord shall be king over all the earth; in that day there shall be one Lord with one name” (Zechariah 14:9). The nations of the world will ascend to Jerusalem and celebrate Sukkot with us. Even items which seem distant from holiness, like the bells of horses, will be designated “holy to God” (ibid. 14:20).