Don’t Be A Sukkah, Get Into It!

Will Gotkin
Don’t Be A Sukkah, Get Into It!
September 22, 2010

Tis the season to be Jewish! Right now, Jews around the world are going through the holiday-filled month of Tishrei. We re-proclaimed G-d our king on Rosh Hashana (5771 years and still going strong!), beat our chests and confessed on Yom Kippur, but the fun is just beginning with the joyous holiday of Sukkot, also known as Succos (and if you’ve read any 19th or 20th century books about Jewish holidays you may have heard it referred to as the Festival of Booths).

The holiday begins on the fifteenth of Tishrei and the first day or two — depending on whether or not you are in the land of Israel – is/are a major holiday in which most forms of ‘work’ are prohibited (similar to Shabbat) and the remaining days of the festival are known as Chol Hamoed (intermediate days) and it concludes on Hoshannah Rabbah. To prepare for Sukkot we build a structure in our backyard called a Sukkah as we were commanded to do each year by the Torah.

It is in this structure that during Sukkot we complete other mitzvos such as shaking a lulov and esrog (I’ll admit this holiday gets an A for being the hardest one to explain to your non-Jewish friends who wonder why you choose to spend a week in a grassy tent shaking four different species of exotic plants). However, did you know that just by being in the sukkah during the holiday you are getting a mitzvah? In fact, being in the sukkah during Sukkot is the only mitzvah we do with our whole bodies. This should serve to remind us that just as we do this mitzvah with our entire body, so should we do all of the mitzvos with our entire being.

Building and spending time in a sukkah can serve as a metaphor for how we should do all of the mitzvot. We need to dedicate time and energy to our Divine service. If we want to do it properly we must study the owner’s manual known as the Torah. Getting closer to Hashem doesn’t come by simply experiencing Judaism passively. We need to put our blood, sweat, and tears and into it and at times physically exert ourselves in carrying out Hashem’s commandments. Furthermore, it’s not enough to just do it like a machine. We need to do it joyfully with a smile on our faces and a song in our hearts – as I type this, the song Whistle While You Work comes to mind. Not only that, but we can’t be content to simply focus on our own relationship with Hashem.

We need to get to get all our fellow Jews involved. A sukkah divided cannot stand! So if you are building sukkah make sure to get the whole family involved and ask other Jews you know to help you. Invite guests to come share meals with you in the sukkah. Hosting guests at the festive meals during Sukkot is actually a big part of the holiday. Let’s all remember to put our whole selves into the service of Hashem. And if some people laugh at us, because our rituals and practices seem strange to them, it should not deter us in slightest bit. We should take comfort in the knowledge that we are answering to a higher authority and inspire others with our joyousness and dedication. This is how we as Jews can truly make a Kiddush Hashem (sanctification of G-d’s name) in this world.

Will Gotkin is a frequent contributor to Gather The Jews.