Try Building a Sukkah!

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October 11, 2019

Try Building a Sukkah!

Building and dwelling in a sukkah is the central mitzvah of the holiday. Our custom is to begin building the sukkah right after the fast is broken after Yom Kippur, as a way of making a transition from a spiritual state to engagement in the physical world.

A sukkah is multifaceted. On the one hand, a sukkah is a temporary structure. It stands only for the week of the festival. The walls and ceiling are composed of canvas and branches. These materials leave inhabitants vulnerable to nature’s elements: bugs, cold breezes, rain, hail and even snow! Built with three walls, the third side is an open doorway. We cannot keep anyone out.

Dwelling in the sukkah means bearing witness to the reality of the fragility and capriciousness of human life, and our vulnerability against the capriciousness of nature.

At the same time, the sukkah is a makom kadosh, a sacred space. We joyfully perform the mitzvah of hachnassat orchim, welcoming guests who share our festive meals. We welcome Ushpizin, ancestral guests who join the fun bringing with them qualities of mercy, righteousness and glory.

Known by the name zman simchateinu, the season of our joy, Sukkot affirms a bountiful harvest, the reassuring cycle of the seasons, and God’s steadfast presence and protection.

The Torah commands us to dwell in the sukkah for the entire week of the festival. Some Jews take that literally and after dinnertime they move aside the table and bring out the sleeping bags. Leaving the comfort of our homes, for meals and for sleep, is meant to increase our appreciation for the bounty of creature comforts we possess.

If you’ve never built a sukkah before, I invite you to consider doing so. www.myjewishlearning.com is a great place to look for all you need to know. Invite your friends, your neighbors, your children’s friends to join you for a meal or a snack, or even just a visit. Chances are good you’ll experience first-hand that fragility and vulnerability against nature at least once during the week.

Make it a welcoming place, and you will no doubt experience simcha, the joy of the festival.

Chag Sameach! Wishing you a joyous Sukkot.

Rabbi Judith Beiner

PHOTO CREDIT: Behnam Marvazy, ritualwell.org