I recently read a story about a Jewish family in Berlin in 1938 who risked their lives to fulfill this commandment.
Two weeks before the infamous Kristallnacht pogrom, anti-Semitism was running high in Germany. A religious family desperately wanted to build a sukkah, but they knew it meant certain danger and possible death if they were caught.
The father of the family calculated that he could build a sukkah on their balcony that would likely go unnoticed, but only at the minimum height – 40 inches high. He built it, and the family was then able to fulfill their obligation to eat meals in the sukkah, squeezed together and sitting on the floor.
If the SS had discovered them, it would have been their last Sukkot on earth.
Why would Jews risk their lives to just to build a sukkah? What is the meaning behind this command?
The reason the Torah gives for the command to build a sukkah is to remember the huts in which the Israelites dwelled in the desert:
in order that future generations may know that I made B’nei Yisrael (Children of Israel) live in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I Hashem your God. (Leviticus 23:43)
According to the Sages, the booths in this verse is really a reference to the Clouds of Glory that accompanied the Children of Israel on their journey through the desert. God used them to lead and protect His people during their 40 years of wandering.
The Clouds of Glory protected the People of Israel from all six directions. The clouds on all four sides protected them from their enemies. The cloud above shaded them from the blazing sun, and the one below smoothed the ground and kept snakes and scorpions away.
These Clouds were a gift from God.
Not only did these clouds lead and protect the Jewish people, but they taught them that God is in charge. In Egypt, they got lost in the physicality of the world, but out in the desert they reconnected with reality.
In God’s world, we don’t need stone walls to protect us. Clouds – concentrated water vapor – were the substance of our protection. To a non-spiritual person, that’s not protection! To a believer, water vapor and stone walls are one and the same. Their is no difference between water vapor and stone in God’s eyes.
Today, when we leave our sturdy homes and sit in our sukkah, we are re-experiencing the Clouds of Glory. The sukkah surrounds us on six sides. It has four flimsy walls, a floor, and a ceiling made of palm fronds. If it’s hot outside, we’re hot. If it’s freezing, we freeze. And if it rains, we get wet!
We are out in nature which we have no control over. And that’s the point – we’re not in control, God is. Recognizing that reality is what we call faith. The Sukkot festival helps us experience the reality that God runs the world. It renews our faith in Him.
Faith in God is the only true stability in this world.
After seven days of living in the sukkah we internalize that reality. Then, when we leave the sukkah for the last time, we bring that high level of faith with us back into our homes and carry it with us for the rest of the year.
The sukkah helps us heal the scared and helpless parts of ourselves. It reminds us that just like God has always held us, He will always hold us. We just need to remember that God’s Clouds of Glory actually surround us all the time.
Thank you, God, for the miracles and for bringing us to this day.