How to build a sukkah with a special focus on first-timers.
By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel
This coming Sunday night begins the 8–9-day long holiday of Sukkot. It may very well be the most “busy,” namely, the most mitzvah-packed holiday in the Jewish calendar. Shaking the lulav bundle daily, extra prayers, sitting in the sukkah booth, nightly celebrations in commemoration of the ancient Sukkot water libations, and more.
As mentioned, one of the mitzvot of the holiday is to sit in a booth, known as a “Sukkah” (hence the name of the holiday). The mitzvah of sukkah is 24/7 throughout the holiday and we (men, at least) are to spend as much time as possible in these outdoor booths. Think of a clubhouse!
At the very least, we are to eat all our meals in a sukkah (could be in a friend’s sukkah or in a public sukkah too) and those who are meticulous even sleep in a sukkah (ok, not so easy in some areas). But again, every moment we spend in a sukkah is considered to be commendable and meritorious.
The mitzvah of sukkah is a rare mitzvah that a person fulfills with his entire body. The only other mitzvot that are performed with one’s entire body at once is the mitzva of living/dwelling/visiting the Land of Israel, and immersing in a mikvah.
I would like to focus on how to build a sukkah with a special focus on first-timers who may have never done so before and are considering building one this year. Do it!
A sukkah must have at least three walls. Well, at least “two and a bit” so that we can say there are three walls.
These three walls can be made of absolutely anything. They can be the outdoor walls of one’s home. They can be curtains tied on to a frame (but tie them down well. We can’t have the walls, whatever you use, flapping in the wind). It can be a few pet elephants lined up side by side to form a wall. Yes, the walls can be made from anything.
And here’s a cool fact: No matter how tall your sukkah structure will be, the walls need only be 40 inches high. You can place your “roof” almost as high as you want. In other words, you can have a kosher sukkah in which you can see and wave to neighbors and passersby!
The roof, however, is the most important part of the sukkah and it has the most details. The roof, known as the “schach” must be beneath the open sky. As such, a sukkah cannot be built under a tree, and even when building a Sukkah outside one’s home, one must make sure that there are no overhangs and roof protrusions over the airspace of one’s Sukkah.
Again, it must be completely under the open sky. There are no exceptions.
The schach must be made of things that grew from the ground and are currently in their natural state. They cannot have been manufactured into anything of use, so ladders, baseball bats, coat hangers or hockey sticks are disqualified. Just like the sukkah is built outdoors in nature, so too the schach must reflect untouched nature.
It goes without saying that sheets, blankets, hides, and metals cannot be used for schach.
There are a number of reasons for the strict requirement of the sukkah being under the open sky.
One reason is that the schach must be the sole provider of shade in a sukkah. Indeed, shade is an important topic, as well. In order for the sukkah to be kosher the schach must provide “more shade than light” in the sukkah. Another reason the mitzvah can only be fulfilled under the open sky is to symbolize that there is nothing between us and God. There are no barriers between God and His people.
Finally, the flimsy roof and the open sky remind us that our security depends on nothing but God. People might think that high walls and solid roofs protect them but that is not entirely true. We certainly have to make the effort to protect ourselves, but ultimately, our protection is from God.
Be sure to build a sukkah, and if for whatever reason you can’t, be sure to arrange with a friend or neighbor to use their sukkah at mealtimes and the like. Make the sukkah your home in which you are surrounding by nothing but God’s presence and God’s protection. Get the whole family involved.
May this mitzvah of togetherness and unity set the tone for the entire year.
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