The sukkah of peace


The mitzvah of dwelling in the sukkah initially appears to be quite straightforward. By way of illustration, the Rambam formulates the obligation in this manner:

“What is the mitzvah of dwelling in the sukkah? One should eat and drink and dwell in the sukkah … in exactly the same manner that he dwells in his house during the other days of the year. Throughout the entire seven-day period, a person should treat his house as a temporary dwelling and his sukkah as his permanent dwelling. As it says in the verse: You shall dwell in sukkot for seven days (Vayikra 23:42)” (Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Sukkah 6:5).

The Rambam’s emphasis is clearly upon the maaseh hamitzvah, the actual manner in which the commandment is to be performed. In contrast, the Tur spends a good deal of time in his introduction to Hilchot Sukkah presenting and analyzing the rationale behind it:

“‘You shall dwell in sukkot for seven days…in order that you should know throughout the generations that I caused the Jewish people to dwell in sukkot when I led them out … [from Egypt]’ (Vayikra 23:42). The Torah makes the mitzvah of sukkah dependent upon the Exodus from Egypt. So, too, in the case of many other mitzvot. This is so, since this is a matter that we saw with our eyes and heard with our ears and no one is able to deny it. It teaches us about the truth of the existence of the Creator, may He be exalted, and that He created everything according to His will. It also teaches us that He has the power to do as He so desires…”

The Tur uses this introduction as a podium for presenting the significance of the oft-quoted “zecher l’yetziat Mitzrayim” (“a reminder of the Exodus from Egypt”) that is found in every single Kiddush we recite, and alongside many of the mitzvot in the Torah. In addition, he takes this opportunity to stress the conceptual connection between the mitzvah of sukkah and essential theological principles such as the existence of the Creator and His omnipotence.

The Bach builds upon the Tur’s analysis to reveal the hidden levels of meaning that constitute the mitzvah of dwelling in the sukkah. He notes that the Tur’s vital point is to be found in his emphasis upon the indispensable role that proper intention (kavanah) plays in the mitzvah — namely, viewing the sukkah as the symbol of yetziat Mitzrayim. The Bach echoes this fundamental notion:

“The purpose of the mitzvah of sukkah is to remember the departure from Egypt. This is accomplished through one’s dwelling in a sukkah wherein the shade is greater than the sun. This, in turn, is a reminder of the Clouds of Glory that protected them [the Jewish people] … through their wanderings in the desert.”

Additionally, he teaches us that the highest form of fulfilling this obligation necessitates careful focus upon the Torah’s phrase, “… in order that you should know throughout the generations that I caused the Jewish people to dwell in sukkot.” The Bach maintains that this “will enable one to fulfill the mitzvah in its most proper fashion.” Thus, for the Bach, if one desires to fulfill the mitzvah of dwelling in the sukkah in its ultimate sense, one must have kavanah regarding two aspects of the mitzvah, namely, its inextricable link to the Exodus, and the great kindness of Hashem that enabled us to dwell in sukkot after He took us out of Egypt. 

As we dwell in our sukkot this chag, may Hashem fulfill the beautiful words found in our Friday night tefilot: “Spread over us the sukkah of Your peace. Blessed are You Hashem, Who spreads the sukkah of peace upon us and upon all His people Israel and upon Jerusalem.”

Shabbat Shalom and chag sameach!