“Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments, and commanded us to dwell in the sukkah.”
Succot, the final holiday of the Jewish High Holidays is right around the corner. The first day of this week-long festival falls on September 23 at sundown. Jews all over the world will leave the comfort of their homes to move into a hut called a succah. Everyone eats their holiday meals in the succah, and some people even sleep in it. The huts that we build represent the Cloud of Glory that God protected us within the desert after we left Egypt. “Ye shall dwell in booths seven days; all that are home-born in Israel shall dwell in booths; that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel to dwell in booths, when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 23: 42-43). We leave our secure, comfortable homes to dwell in the succah as a symbol of our faith in God, and our recognition that everything we have comes from Him.
A succah is an outdoor hut, whose roof is made from “sechach,” which is raw, unfinished plants, often bamboo or palm leaves. There are many regulations as to what makes a succah “kosher.” For one, the succah must be outdoors and not under any cover, under the open sky. One must be able to see the stars through the branches of the “roof.” The walls can be made of any material, but they must be sturdy enough not to blow in the wind. Many people in Israel have outdoor patios with walls that they use as their succah, but the roof must be open, and on Succot they use branches as the roof.
People bring chairs, lighting, and decorations into their succah. As it is one’s home for the week, people try to make it as nice as possible, enjoying festive meals and inviting guests. There is also a concept in Judaism called “hidur mitzvah” which means “enhancement of the mitzvah.” It is an extra mitzvah to make the things we do special and beautiful. We even make a special blessing (above) when we sit down to eat in the succah, thanking God for the opportunity to partake this in this special mitzvah, and renew our connection with Him once again.