The history of this temporary hut is shrouded in some mystery. According to the Torah, it is a remembrance of the travels of the Israelites through the wilderness after the exodus from Egypt (Leviticus 23:42-43). According to historians and biblical scholars, its origins are probably as a shelter used during the harvest in ancient Israel. For us, though, the sukkah serves as a spiritual palace – a place to contemplate what is truly temporary and what is truly permanent in our lives. The sukkah is a haven from our obsession with making and getting stuff – our achievements, our reputation and our elaborate toys. Sitting inside a sukkah, one is aware that all of these things can get blown away with a good gust of wind.
What I love most about this holiday is just sitting in the sukkah. Its four walls define the perimeter of an alternate universe. Time does not exist inside the sukkah – there is only now. Sitting in the sukkah, the sound of the birds chirping is louder and the chill of the autumn breezes is more refreshing.
Inside the sukkah, all of our conceits about our prized possessions seem ridiculous. Perhaps this is why the rabbis said that we should bring our "beautiful vessels" and "beautiful couches" into the sukkah (B. Sukkot 28b). They wanted you to look at your antique chaise longue and your Chinese vase as they sit in your backyard under a roof of pine branches – moist from the rain and stained from the grass – and they wanted you to hear yourself say, "What, am I nuts?"
Yes, you are. Inside the sukkah you know that nothing is permanent. We are here now, and soon we will be gone. We are triumphant now, and soon we will be defeated. We are asleep now, and soon we will be awake. To everything there is a time, and a season for every experience under heaven. In the sukkah, all of those times and seasons run together into one undifferentiated moment. Sitting in sukkah is taking an adventure through space and time – or, perhaps, an adventure through the annulment of space and time.
The week-long adventure is beginning in just a few hours. Bon voyage.
Other Posts on This Topic:
Sukkot: Intentional Disorientation
Building a Sukkah in Hurricane Territory