You shall sit in sukkot for seven days; […]
So that future generations will know that I housed the Israelites in sukkot 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:
Foundations for Planning
- How are symbols used in celebrations and holidays?
- How do Jewish practices reflect Jewish values?
- Why are holidays, rituals, customs, important to me, my family, and my community?
- How is the Torah story my story?
- What does the sukkah symbolize?
- What are some characteristics of the sukkah not found in a regular house and what is significant about this?
- In what way is a sukkah a home? In what way is it temporary?
The holiday of Sukkot is named for the sukkot in which people live throughout the days of the holiday. A sukkah is a temporary or transitory structure that has a thatched roof (called schach) made from plants (such as palm leaves, woven bamboo mats...
The holiday of Sukkot is named for the sukkot in which people live throughout the days of the holiday. A sukkah is a temporary or transitory structure that has a thatched roof (called schach) 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 main mitzvah (commandment) of the holiday of Sukkot is to “sit” in the sukkah. According to halacha (Jewish law), one must eat in the sukkah, sleep in the sukkah and use it as a home. Every time one sits in the sukkah to eat a meal, a blessing is recited over the mitzvah: “Blessed are you God, sovereign of the universe, who has sanctified us with God’s commandments and commanded us to dwell in the sukkah.”
Our Sages are split over the question regarding what the sukkot symbolize. In the Talmud (Sukkah 11: 2), two opinions appear: “‘Because I settled the Israelites in sukkot’ – these were the clouds of glory, according to Rabbi Eliezer. Rabbi Akiva says: They actually made for themselves sukkot [temporary homes for dwelling].”
The differences between the two opinions teach about two different principles remembered on Sukkot: If the sukkah is meant to remind us of the clouds of glory, then the thing we remember is the grace of God who protected the Israelites in the desert. If the purpose is to remember the actual sukkah structures, then the sukkah commemorates and reminds us of the difficulties experienced by the Israelites in the desert when they dwelled in temporary and unprotected homes before reaching the land of Israel.
The halachot for building the sukkah reflect its purpose: To remind us of the Israelites’ wandering in the desert. Since the sukkah is a “temporary home”, it needs to be both temporary and suitable for living.
Temporary: According to halacha, the sukkah should be built specifically for the holiday, though it is sufficient to just place the schach at that time, even if the walls remain standing throughout the rest of the year. The schach is the principle expression of the temporary nature of the sukkah, and it needs to be made from plants, not too dense – so that stars can be seen.
It is forbidden to build a sukkah under a ceiling or tree. The sukkah must have a maximum height of 9 meters (29½ feet) – both because if it’s larger than that, the schach would need strong enough pillars to support it, thus turning the sukkah into a permanent structure, and also because at such a height, one would be sitting under the shade of the walls and not really beneath the open sky.
Suitable for living: There is also a minimum size designated for the sukkah, enough that at least one person can sit and eat in it. It must have at least three walls, or sides, two of which are complete and an additional “symbolic” side that is about the length of a tefach (approximately 10 cm, or 3.9 inches). The walls should be substantial and not sway in the wind, ensuring that one may spend time there and eat comfortably
- Show the students a few pictures or objects and ask them to consider what each of these pictures or objects reminds us of. You can arrange the pictures or objects as a classroom exhibit, and give the students a designated route for walking around the exhibit. Begin with personal objects from the recent past (such as a picture from a class field trip, a shirt or hat designed by the students for a school activity, etc.). Then move to some personal artifacts from your own distant past (for example, a picture from your parents’ wedding), followed by pictures or objects that remind us of our nation’s distant past (a picture of the kotel, Hanukkah candles, matzah, etc.). Students who know how to write can use a personal worksheet to list the names of at least 5 pictures or objects and the memories they evoke, including various emotions that go along with them. The final picture you show should be of a sukkah. If you did this activity as an exhibit, return to sitting together as a class. Ask the students: What does the sukkah remind us of?
- For older students: Ask each student to write about an object they have that they continue to hold onto because it reminds them of something (an experience that was significant for them or something they love, etc.). In pairs, have the students share the reason that this object is significant to them. You can write a guiding question for this discussion on the board: Tell us, what about the memory that this object evokes for you is so important for you?
As a class, ask the students to share their answers to this question. As they answer, write relevant keywords on the board, such as: family, love, connection to childhood, happiness, friends, etc.
- You can also discuss the following questions: Why do we like souvenirs? Are we unable to remember things without them?
Click here to view our consolidated list of suggested interactive pedagogies for classroom discussion.
- According to the Torah, what is the sukkah meant to remind us of? Why do we need to “sit” (dwell) in the sukkah in order to remember this – why is it not enough to just build the sukkah and stay at home?
- Why do you think the Israelites settled in sukkot when they wandered the desert? What other kinds of structures could they have settled in during their time of wandering? In what kinds of structures would they have not been able to settle? Why?
- Why is it even important for us to remember the time spent in sukkot in the desert?
- What feelings do we feel when we are in the sukkah? What emotions does the sukkah evoke for you?
- What does a sukkah have that a house does not? What does a house have that a sukkah does not?
- What about the sukkah’s structure makes it appropriate for a non-permanent structure suitable for wandering?
- The sukkah is a symbol of the Israelites’ wandering in the desert. Did you ever “wander” from place to place (moving houses, switching seats in class, etc.)? How did you feel when you needed to move? How do you think it feels to have to wander between many places for a long time?
- Teach the students some of the halachot for building a sukkah: At least three sides (one side can be small); schach made of plants (but not attached to the ground); you can see the stars through the schach (but there is still more shade than sun); the height of the sukkah is tall enough to enable people to sit in the sukkah (but is not unusually tall). Explain how these rules reflect the concept of the sukkah as a temporary home and remind us of the Israelites’ wandering in the desert: even then, the Israelites slept under the open sky in structures that could be taken apart and rebuilt. The students can build model sukkot using shoe boxes, modelling clay and other crafting material, inspired by the halachot for building a sukkah. Direct the students’ attention to their choice of materials for the schach and what items they place inside of the sukkah (i.e. are there decorations, windows, a table, chairs, beds)?
- Draw a picture of the Israelites wandering the desert. Students who know how to write should add speech bubbles that describe experiences of life wandering the desert and settling in sukkot, or that express hope for a permanent home. You can offer suggestions for how to start: “I like…”, “It’s really hard for me….”, “I miss…”, “I look forward to the day…”
Afterwards, discuss as a class what it must have been like to live in the desert and in what way the sukkah reminds us of that life.
- If possible, take the students to visit a sukkah. If there is a sukkah at school, help decorate it and go visit it. You can recite the blessing said over sitting in a sukkah. If there is no sukkah at the school, see if it’s possible to build one.
- Teach the Permanence and Temporariness resource (for ages 9 and up), which discusses turning the sukkah into a permanent home.
- Watch this video about building a sukkah. Discuss the experience of building the sukkah ourselves, as opposed to the way we normally live in and use structures that were built for us. How does it feel when we take part in the experience of building and creating? How does this impact the way we relate to the structure?