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Thinking Inside the Box

By Rabbi Label Lam

In Sukkos shall you dwell for seven days… (Vayikra 23:42)

What is a Sukkah? I think may of us could offer a technical definition or an instruction manual for constructing a Sukkah but what is a Sukkah? To understand a thing well one is advised to visit the first time it is referenced in the Torah. Where is “Sukkah” first mentioned in Torah?

After surviving a threatening confrontation with his arch enemy Essau, the Torah records the following: “And on that day Essau returned on his way to Seir and Yaakov traveled to Sukkos and built for himself a house and for his cattle he made Sukkos therefore the name of the place is called Sukkos.” (Breishis 33:16-17)

The verse is a little odd. Yaakov built himself a house (which sounds normal enough) but because he made Sukkos for his cattle the place he traveled to was to become known as “Sukkos”. Is that the reason to name a place? The Ohr HaChaim answers, “Perhaps because he did something new by showing his compassion for the cattle…that he did something that no one had done previously, that he prepared a Sukkah - a shelter for animals. It was that novelty that caused that the place should be called so.”

This may help us to gain an insight into the essence of our Sukkos, the ones we dwell in for seven days or so. After a near head on collision between two super-powers the Torah depicts Essau going back home and to his old predictable ways. Yaakov, however, did something beyond the norm, outside his home. He didn’t walk away from his brush with death the same as he entered. Neither did he become bitter from the experience. Rather we observe he became better. The symbol or the symptom of that improvement was his innovation in creating an expanded arena for compassion in the universe. That is the Sukkah!

After the life and death surgery of the “Days of Awe”, a Sukkah, like a clean parchment or canvas, becomes a place where, everyone can express some renewed sense of gratitude or idealism in an individual way. The inner world of each Sukkah, like each person, is decorated differently.

Some hang native fruits and vegetables and some display the seven fruits that the Land of Israel is praised with. There are Sukkos that are covered with pictures of sagely faces from the ages and there are those are dizzy and busy with children’s art projects. Many Sukkos have some reminder of Jerusalem on an eastern wall and few have dangling Mitzvah artifacts such as Shofars, Menorahs, and Kiddush Cups etc. Uplifting verses from the TANACH are frequently found inscribed on the walls of many a Kosher Sukkah. The Ushpizin, the seven shepherds of the Jewish People are often invited guests given the most honorable of mention in this real Hall of Fame. Some are simply decorated with the faces of happy children and parents eating and singing together with guests and friends. The four species is not an uncommon theme maybe because it is the Mitzvah of the day or perhaps because it represents that fresh start.

A Sukkah is a place not just for artistic expression but rather a space that holds a newly harvested crop of inspiration and idealism that will be nourished from for a whole year. A Sukkah is a serious and fun world with limitless possibilities and so are we when we exit the ordinary and begin thinking inside the box.

Text Copyright © 2006 by Rabbi Label Lam and



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