Archive for September, 2004

Sukkah in a Storm

Copyright 2011 Neal Joseph Loevinger

Torah Portion: Sukkot

Dear Friends:

This is the first weekly message of our new email “drasha-
delivery” service, and we’re already up to more than 45
subscribers. Thanks for making me follow through with this idea!

For our inaugural message, it seems appropriate to consider
the frustrations putting the roof on a sukkah in a rainstorm, as
that’s exactly what I’m going to be doing in a few hours.

First, let’s review a few basic FAQ’s regarding a sukkah: a kosher
sukkah must have walls (at least two and part of a third), must
be out in the open (i.e., not under a tree or roof), and must be
covered in s’chach, which is defined as loose, unbundled plant
materials, which grew in the ground but is no longer attached to
it. Thus, s’chach could be cornstalks, bamboo poles, or cut
branches, but not vines which are still growing, branches still
attached to the tree, or bundles of hay, for example.

Furthermore, s’chach cannot be something which is fashioned
into a utensil- rope, for example, is cotton, but it’s fashioned into
something other than its natural form. The reason s’chach
cannot be bundled (say, like a bundle of hay or grain) is that
sometimes, in the old days, people would put bundles of grain
on the roof to dry, and s’chach must be placed deliberately on the
sukkah to fulfill the mitzvah.

So far, so good. Now, here’s our problem: s’chach also cannot
be permanently attached to the walls of the sukkah. For example,
it’s fine to have a few narrow boards running across the top of
the sukkah, as part of the roof, to support the s’chach, but the
s’chach itself has to be loose and unattached. This leaves the
s’chach vulnerable to winds and rain, and means that anybody
who builds a sukkah might do all kinds of preparations just to
find that a windstorm has blown off the roof, and thus “un-
sukkafied” it.

Thus, a kosher sukkah has a distinctly tentative quality, and to
me, that’s part of the spirituality of the holiday. In order to make
a sukkah kosher, to have to be willing to let it blow away, as it
were- you cannot become too “attached” to the sukkah by
making it permanent. What’s true of a sukkah is true of any other
material object: it’s only temporary, it’s not that important, and we
risk misunderstanding its purpose if we try to make material
things permanent fixtures in our lives.

Watching in frustration as the wind threatens to blow the roof off
my sukkah becomes a teaching moment for putting all kinds of
other things into perspective, because it captures the essential
truth that material things come and go, and there’s no point in
becoming too attached to any one of them. In Judaism, what’s
most enduring are relationships, not objects, and paradoxically,
as we strengthen the bonds of friendship and family by
celebrating together in our sukkot, we have to be willing to let the
sukkah itself go, if that’s the way the wind blows.

a warm and dry holiday to all of you,


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