You've worked hard, shlepping branches and wood to construct your Sukkah. Or perhaps you've been invited to share in someone else's Sukkah. Now you ask: How is this structure relevant to my life in the 21st century?!
The Sukkah is discussed in the Torah. When the Jews left Egypt and began wandering in the barren desert, they were unarmed, unprotected, and left vulnerable to the elements of wind, cold, bandits and animals. Since they were constantly travelling, God instructed them to build flimsy, temporary booths – called Sukkot.
These hardly provided any protection from the elements! Yet the Jews learned a profound lesson: Safety and security does not come through thick walls and burglar alarms, but ultimately through trust and reliance in God.
Today, we re-learn that same lesson every year by building our own Sukkah-booths. For an entire week, we leave the comfort and "security" of our homes, and venture out into our flimsy, temporary Sukkah. For an entire week, we absorb the lesson of our ancestors. We eat in the Sukkah, socialize in the Sukkah, and learn Torah in the Sukkah. Weather permitting, we even sleep in the Sukkah. The Sukkah becomes our temporary home!
Unlike any other holiday, the Torah refers to Sukkot specifically as the "time of our joy." This reveals to us the true meaning of joy. Is having a good job, a big bank account, a well-appointed mansion and Italian silk suits the essence of joy? Certainly these things are great! But every life has its share of problems, broken dreams and disappointments. So true joy has got to be something more...
Sukkot comes along to remind us that just as God sustained the Jews in the desert, so too our ultimate success comes directly from God. There is no real security without God. This is why the holiday of Sukkot falls out at the time of gathering the finished crops into the store-houses – the season when a person feels pride at the sight of his abundance. God loves us and protects us. Getting close to God is the greatest pleasure a human being can enjoy. This realization is uplifting and liberating. This is why Sukkot is called the "time of our joy."
It is most important to at least eat a bread meal in the Sukkah on the first night of Yom Tov. Beyond that, if one finds it too uncomfortable to be in the Sukkah, the Sages say that you can go back into your house. Because if one is preoccupied with his own discomfort, then he'll miss the whole point of being in the Sukkah anyway! Torah is not meant to be painful. For as King Solomon says, "[The Torah's] ways are pleasant, and all its paths are peace" (Proverbs 3:7).
Whenever we sit in the Sukkah and eat food made of grain, we say the following blessing:
Baruch ata Adonoy, Elo-heinu Melech ha'olam, asher kid'shanu bi'mitzvo-sav, vi'tzivanu lay-shave ba-sukkah.
Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who sanctified us with His mitzvot, and instructed us to sit in the Sukkah.
Bringing It All Together
The Kabbalists say that when a Jews dwells in the Sukkah, the presence of God dwells with him. It is as if the Almighty has invited us to enter His holy palace – to sit at His table and share in His goodness. Perhaps this is why Sukkah is one of the few mitzvot we perform with our entire body. We are literally immersed and bathed in the spiritual energy. Look over your head and see the sky allowing, as it were, heaven to descend through your ceiling and infuse your Sukkah.
The Talmud says that in the days of the Messiah, all Jews will dwell together in one gigantic Sukkah. This underscores the need for Jewish unity. Perhaps this is the reason why on Sukkot we take the four species – Esrog, Lulav, myrtle and willow – bind them close together, and wave them in all directions. We declare that all Jews are part of the same unit. And we pledge to discover how all these parts can work together to accomplish our lofty goals.
We hope you enjoy your Sukkah. Have a few meals, shmuze, snooze – and learn a little Torah. Bring out your nice dishes and relish in the splendor. Because for one entire week, this is the house where you and your Creator will dwell together.
"Chag Sameyach" – a joyous Sukkot holiday to you and yours.