At Home in the Succah

From: Jenny in Newport

Dear Rabbi,

I understand that we are to consider the succah as our permanent dwelling during the festival, while our houses are to be considered of secondary importance. For this reason, we are to eat, sleep and otherwise be in the succah as we normally dwell in our homes. My question is, why then must we only be engaged in holy acts like learning or praying, and refrain from mundane acts or idle speech. Shouldn’t we feel at home in the succah, talking about whatever we want, or watching TV or whatever?

Dear Jenny,

The succah represents the Clouds of Glory with which G‑d encompassed the Jews as they traveled in the desert. These clouds protected them from the heat of the sun and sheltered them from rain or wild winds. They even miraculously smoothed out the ground before them such that they literally walked on the clouds, and served as a “dry cleaning service” that continuously permeated their clothing, cleaning and protecting it from wear and tear.

Why did G‑d choose to house them this way? To free them from the need to shelter themselves in order to have time to learn Torah and engage in spiritual pursuits that would bring them closer to G‑d during those formative years between leaving Egypt and reaching permanent settlement in the Land of Israel. Once they settled the Land, not everyone was able to maintain that intimate connection with G‑d, and the mundane pursuits of life raised challenges to their spirituality. Once a year, after they finished toiling to harvest the summer crops, G‑d invited the Jewish People to rekindle the intimacy of those early years, under a star-studded canopy, enveloped in the succah, in order to learn Torah, pray and reconnect with the Divine.

We too engage in a myriad of pursuits all year long – school, work, travel, TV and idle chatter too. The succah is our opportunity to relocate our focal point from the fixed and permanent pursuit of the mundane, to the spontaneous spirituality of Sinai. By entering the succah we are given the chance to immerse ourselves in the purifying remnants of those ancient Clouds of Glory, to be re-inspired and receive a spiritual uplift with which to infuse the coming year.

Therefore, during Succot, when we relate to our permanent homes as temporary while considering the temporary succah dwelling as permanent, we are in fact expressing our reminiscent yearning for a time when the mundane will be secondary and spirituality will become the central focus of our lives, encompassing and permeating us with Clouds of Glory.

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