The Power of Tzedaka: The connection between 17 Tammuz & Sukkot
It is well known that we sit in the Sukkah to commemorate the miraculous “Ananei HaKavod - clouds of glory” which encircled and protected the Bnei Yisroel during their 40 year journey through the wilderness.
But why is this commemoration held in Tishrei, and not in Nissan, when the Bnei Yisroel left Egypt and first received the “clouds of glory” to protect them?
The Vilna Gaon explains that on Sukkot we commemorate not the “clouds of glory” themselves, but rather, Hashem’s forgiveness of Bnei Yisroel following the sin of the golden calf as symbolised by these miraculous clouds.
After the sin of the golden calf, which took place on 17 Tammuz, Hashem was angry with the people and removed the special protective clouds, leaving them exposed and vulnerable. Hashem finally proclaimed His forgiveness on Yom Kippur.
In order to fully repair the relationship and restore the people to their previous stature of glory, Hashem commanded them to donate materials and construct the Mishkan. The people donated materials during the three days following Yom Kippur – the 11th, 12th and 13th of Tishrei – and on the 14th, they brought all the materials to Betzalel who would build the Mishkan. The work began on the 15th of Tishrei, whereupon the “clouds of glory” returned.
We therefore celebrate Sukkot at this time of the year to commemorate the return of the “clouds of glory” and Hashem’s forgiveness of Bnei Yisroel.
As a result, it has also become a custom specifically before Sukkot to distribute charity to the poor.
As was the case at Har Sinai, we hope and pray that our involvement in generous giving during this time, combined with our repentance during the High Holidays, will render us worthy of Hashem’s ongoing love, compassion, affection and grace, and we will be deserving of receiving His blessings.