Sukkah: The Spiritual Environment

Nov 24, 2014

R. Aryeh Feldman

A guiding principle in Torah thought is that mitzvot (commandments) require kavannah, intention. Practically speaking, this means having in mind as we are doing the mitzva that we are fulfilling the Diving Will. When it comes to the mitzvah of sukkah, however, this level of kavannah is not enough. We must also know why G-d commanded us to do this mitzva, based on the verse, ”So the generations will know that I placed Bnei Yisroel in sukkot.” And yet, in a seeming paradox, we know that one can fulfill the mitzvah of sukkah when sleeping (i.e. without awareness). How can this be?

The answer can be found in Parshat Vayishlach. The first time we find the idea of sukkah mentioned is after Yaakov Avinu meets Eisav. When he saw that his own malach (the Saro Shel Eisav) was unable to defeat Yaakov, Eisav desired to accompany Yaakov on his journey. He figured that because the physical world was his playground, he would eventually get his chance to overcome Yaakov. Yaakov’s antidote was to separate himself from Eisav and build sukkot for his children and possessions. Surrounded by walls, with only sky above, the sukkah served as a spiritual haven for Yaakov’s family. Their new dwelling was not of olam hazeh; it provided an insulation from Eisav and this world, but not from Hashem.

Our Sukkahs serve the same role for us. The chag of Sukkot follows the judgement periods of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. We concentrate on cleansing ourselves from sin, to in effect become different people. Once we have accomplished this, we must protect ourselves from the material world and create a spiritual environment which separates us from temptation and sin. The sukkah reminds us that olam hazeh is only temporary. It keeps us focused on our connection to the spiritual.

In order to create and maintain this new world, we must be cognizant of what lies behind the mitzvah of sukkah. Since we are not on Yaakov Avinu’s level, we are required to know that we are dwelling in sukkot because Hashem protected us in the midbar with clouds of glory. Just as the clouds of glory insulated us in the midbar and connected us to Hashem, the sukkah insulates us from this world and keeps us focused on the idea of teshuva and serving Hashem.

Creating the environment of the sukkah is the first component of the mitzva. The second is dwelling in the environment. Once the environment has been created (through our initial mindset that the sukkot are reminiscent of Hashem’s protection in the desert — the special kavanna required for the mitzva of sukkah) anything done in the environment serves to strengthen one’s connection to Hashem. This is true even if, as with sleeping, it is done without awareness.

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