You shall sit in sukkot for seven days […] so that future generations will know that I made temporary homes for the Israelites to dwell in when I brought them out of the land of Egypt.
Leviticus, chapter 23, verses 42-43
בַּסֻּכֹּת תֵּשְׁבוּ שִׁבְעַת יָמִים […] לְמַעַן יֵדְעוּ דֹרֹתֵיכֶם כִּי בַסֻּכּוֹת הוֹשַׁבְתִּי אֶת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּהוֹצִיאִי אוֹתָם מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם:
ויקרא פרק כ”ג פסוקים מ”ב-מ”ג
For a period of seven days, a person shall make their sukkah permanent and their home temporary.
One has nice dishes –brings them into the sukkah.
Nice sheets –brings them into the sukkah.
Eats, drinks and walks in the sukkah.
According to the Babylonian Talmud, Masechet Sukkah, daf 28, page 2
Foundations for Planning
- How do I grow as a result of the Jewish calendrical cycle?
- How do Jewish practices reflect Jewish values?
- What is the place of temporariness in our lives?
- How does moving into a sukkah help us give meaning to the basic things in life?
- How can the feeling of vulnerability that comes from sitting in a sukkah contribute to us as humans?
The holiday of Sukkot is named for the sukkah in which we live throughout the duration of the holiday. A sukkah is a temporary structure that has a thatched roof, called schach – סכך , made from plants (such as palm leaves, woven bamboo...
The holiday of Sukkot is named for the sukkah in which we live throughout the duration of the holiday. A sukkah is a temporary structure that has a thatched roof, called schach – סכך , made from plants (such as palm leaves, woven bamboo mats or pine tree branches). The sukkah is built to be a temporary home – a home that is lived in for only a short period of time. The Torah states: “You shall settle in sukkot for seven days” (Leviticus 23, 42), and our Sages explain: “The Torah says that for the full seven days you should leave your permanent home and settle in a temporary home” (Babylonian Talmud, Masechet Sukkah 2, page 1).
Chazal (Our Sages) determined a set of laws based on these principles to ensure that the sukkah would fulfill the definition of a home – a place suitable for living, as well as the definition of transitory – for temporary purposes. In terms of being suitable for living: Chazal assigned a minimum height and size within which a person can sit, and a minimum number of walls – three (though the third wall can be smaller). Its temporary nature is determined by the schach, the thatched roof: It must be made of plants grown from the ground, without the use of any fixative material (such as clay), and it must be built in advance of the holiday (rather than remain in place from year to year).
Commentators have offered various explanations for the commandment of the sukkah, its purpose and the values to which it is connected. Rashbam (in his commentary on Leviticus 23, 43) explained that moving to a temporary home during this time of the year, in which the grain is harvested, reminds a person to be humble: “God designated the holiday of Sukkot to take place during the harvest season so that a person’s heart should not grow haughty due to their home being filled with so many good things, lest they say: “Our own hands made all this wealth for us.”
In chasidut, the temporary sukkah was seen as an allegory for this world (as opposed to the world to come), in that this world is temporary and we are guests in it, and a person’s aspirations should be directed towards the world to come. As the writer of Sfat Emet explained: “This world is temporary for the people of Israel; their principal home is in the heavens.” (Deuteronomy, L’Sukkot, 16) Rabbi Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler wrote in his book, Michtav M’Eliyahu: “A sukkah is a temporary home, a way of nullifying the material world.”
Some commentators explained the idea of living in a temporary home as a principle of social equality, because a person is separated from their property and everyone is equal in the sukkah. Philo of Alexandria connected the idea of equality to the time of year in which the holiday of Sukkot takes place, the beginning of the autumn season: “The last of the holidays of Tishrei is called Sukkot and it takes place on the day of the equinox, when night and day are of equal length […] from this we learn […] that we must respect equality and abhor inequality” (“On Laws”, article 204).
In the source above, Chazal turned the distinction between a temporary home and a permanent home on its head. According to the Talmud, the sukkah becomes a permanent home for the duration of the holiday. The Talmud details how something like this happens: A person moves furniture and dishes from their permanent home into his sukkah, and does everything in the sukkah that they would do in his permanent home, such as eating and sleeping. In doing so, the sukkah becomes their permanent home, for one week. However – this “home” is not a stable place that is necessarily safe or secure. A sukkah is vulnerable to weather damage and can easily be destroyed or moved from place to place. Turning a temporary structure into our permanent home for an entire week helps us connect to the Israelites’ wandering in the desert, to the time in which their home was an unstable and temporary one – before they entered the land of Israel and built their permanent home here.
We can learn from Chazal about the possibilities of bringing permanence into temporary life and temporariness into permanent life – not just on the holiday of Sukkot, but in our daily lives as well.
- Ask the students to write a page from the travel journal of an imaginary Israelite during the time they wandered the desert. Suggest that the students relate to the experience of living in a tent, the weather, moving from place to place, dismantling and building the camp, etc. Alternatively, students who are not familiar with the story of the Israelites’ wandering in the desert can describe a long journey or trip that they experienced.
- Discuss with the students their experience in temporary structures (on a trip, camp, etc.) Ask how they would feel if they had to move every year, from place to place? What is the advantage of a permanent place? What can be gained from a period of temporariness in life?
Explain the differences between a sukkah and a house, a temporary home and a permanent home.
Click here to view our consolidated list of suggested interactive pedagogies for classroom discussion.
- Why is a sukkah considered a temporary home? What characteristics does it have that are characteristics of a temporary home? What are the characteristics of a permanent home?
- What event from the past is the temporariness of a sukkah meant to remind us of? Why do you think there is a need to actually live in the sukkah in order to connect to this event?
- According to the source above, what things give the sukkah attributes of a permanent home? Why did Chazal try to assign the sukkah characteristics of a permanent home?
- What would you bring into your sukkah in order to give it attributes of a permanent residence?
- Is it really possible to call a sukkah a “permanent home” just because certain things are done in it and there are certain objects in it? What about the sukkah makes it temporary nonetheless?
- What is the experience of living in a temporary home? What feelings do you think a person who lives in a temporary home feels? What are the advantages and disadvantages to this experience?
- What message can we take from the holiday of Sukkot to the rest of the year regarding how we relate to those things in our lives that we perceive to be permanent?
- For older students: What things in your life are temporary and what things are permanent? Are you satisfied with the temporary and permanent status of these things? Are there things in your life that are temporary that you would want to be more permanent, and things that are permanent that you would like to be more temporary? Why? How can you do this? (For example, turning a hobby like drawing into a permanent and regular part of your weekly schedule).
- Visit a sukkah and observe it from the perspective of permanence and temporariness – what about it is permanent and what about it is temporary?
- The students should bring one item to the school’s sukkah that they think is meant for a permanent home (they can draw or make this item) and then decorate the sukkah with these items.
- What is the significance of a sukkah’s transitory nature? Use this template in which different figures explain the meaning of the sukkah from their point of view. Match each figure with a specific value. Choose one of the figures with whom you identify and write about an experience from your life in which you felt what they describe.
- Study Eliahou Eric Bokobza’s piece entitled “Sukkot”, which offers an interesting perspective about the transitory nature of sukkot vs. the characteristics of a permanent home.