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Why do we build a Sukkah?

by Rabbi Yeruchem Eilfort

  

Library » Holidays » Sukkot » The Sukkah | Subscribe | What is RSS?


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On Sukkot we celebrate the divine protection enjoyed by our ancestors during their 40-year sojourn in the wilderness. During that time the Clouds of Glory shielded the Children of Israel from the radical temperature variations common in the desert. At night it turned into a Pillar of Fire to guide them and illuminate the dark hours for them, and the Midrash relates that the cloud killed dangerous animals and even leveled their path.

The Sukkah represents the Clouds of Glory,1 which of course are representations of the Shechinah (Divine Presence).

The Torah commands us to dwell in the sukkah during the duration of the holiday.2 Our Sages explain that dwelling within the sukkah means we should eat in the sukkah, learn Torah in the sukkah (double Mitzvah!), and move as many of our normal activities as possible into the sukkah (some sleep in the sukkah as well).

Our mere presence within the walls of the sukkah is considered a Mitzvah! While in the sukkah every breath we take is filled with G-dliness, as we are completely surrounded by the sanctity of the Mitzvah.

It is important to make sure that the sukkah is Kosher in order to properly fulfill the Mitzvah.

A Kosher sukkah must have at least two and a half walls. The walls must be sturdy enough so that if a candle is lit in the sukkah it will not be extinguished by the wind. A permanent wall may be used for the walls of the sukkah even though the sukkah must be a temporary dwelling, for it is the roof of the structure that gives it the designation of temporary. The roof must be made of detached natural materials (like branches - preferably green) called S'chach. We must not place our structure under anything other than the sky. We are supposed to be able to see the heavens while in our sukkah, so we should not pile on so many branches that the rain cannot get through. There must be enough however to insure that at midday there is a majority of shade within the sukkah. The sukkah should be large enough to enable at least one person to be able to sit down and eat a meal, although in reality the bigger the sukkah the better.

On Sukkot we also celebrate the final harvest of the year. That is why many people have the custom to hang fruits from the roof of their sukkah and why the holiday is associated with the blessings of a great bounty.

The beauty of family and friends gathered together eating, singing, and generally making merry within a gorgeous sukkah cannot be adequately described. It is the type of scene that will leave an indelible mark on one's memory. It is the type of positive reinforcement that will make our children proud Jews forever. The scene fills the heart with appreciation of G-d Almighty, and truly makes this, "The Season of Our Joy!"

Chag Same'ach!

Footnotes

  • 1. Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 625:1
  • 2. Leviticus 23:42-43 - "Every resident among the Israelites shall live in booths, in order that your [ensuing] generations should know that I had the children of Israel live in booths when I took them out of the land of Egypt."

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Mitzvah
(pl. Mitzvot). A commandment from G-d. Mitzvah also means a connection, for a Jew connects with G–d through fulfilling His commandments.
Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Sukkot
A seven day autumn festival commemorating the miracle of the Heavenly Clouds which enveloped the Jews while traveling in the desert for forty years. On this holiday we dwell in makeshift booths and shake the Four Species.
Sukkah
The temporary structure in which we are required to dwell for the duration of the holiday of Sukkot. The Sukkah must have at least three walls and its roof consists of unsecured branches, twigs or wooden slats.
Kosher
Literally means "fit." Commonly used to describe foods which are permitted by Jewish dietary laws, but is also used to describe religious articles (such as a Torah scroll or Sukkah) which meet the requirements of Jewish law.
Midrash
(Pl. Midrashim). Non-legal material of anecdotal or allegorical nature, designed either to clarify historical material, or to teach a moral point. The Midrashim were compiled by the sages who authored the Mishna and Talmud (200 BCE-500 CE).
Shechinah
Divine Presence.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.