Questions and answers on Sukkot

September 17, 2021 by Rabbi Raymond Apple
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Rabbi Raymond Apple shares his thoughts on Sukkoth.

Rabbi Raymond Apple


The Torah commands us (Deut. 16:13) to make a sukkah. The task is far from easy. So many questions arise.

Is last year’s sukkah still kosher? How many people must a sukkah accommodate? What rules apply to the walls and the roof? What happens if rain beats down on the sukkah?

There are so many rules. It requires so much time and effort. The question is when the time and effort should be done. The answer is, “not at the last minute.” One should get ready for Sukkot long before and plan the sukkah in advance with a mind stocked with information. It is hard because Sukkot comes so close to Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur.

Planning for Sukkot should commence weeks before, even though the actual building traditionally begins at the end of Yom Kippur.


Popular thinking regards Sukkot as a festival of action: you make the sukkah, you decorate the sukkah, you sit in the sukkah, you eat (some people sleep) in the sukkah, you transfer your activities to the sukkah – all true, but there is also an intellectual aspect.

The Torah explains that the sukkah has a message, “that your descendants shall know that I caused the Israelites to dwell in sukkot when I brought them out of Egypt” (Lev. 23:42-43). The sukkah requires you to think, to know, to understand.

What in particular does it tell us?

Rabbi Eliezer says it recalls the clouds of glory with which God protected the Israelites. Without God we would never have survived.

Rabbi Akiva’s view is that it reminds us of our humble, fragile past. We build and use the sukkah because it shows that we did not suddenly arrive at the gateway to Eretz Yisra’el without knowing who we were and how we got there.

Our present and future are explained by our past.


There are four plants associated with Sukkot – the lulav (palm), etrog, hadassim (myrtle) and aravot (willow).

There is a Midrash (Lev. Rabbah 30:10) that says the Torah speaks of the importance of the etrog, which the Torah calls “the fruit of a goodly tree”. The Midrash says, “This refers to Abraham”.

In the Zohar there is a statement that whatever good deed you do any day is a symbolic deposit in your spiritual bank account. Most people have quite a good balance in their account, but there are some days without good deeds and without new bank deposits, whilst Abraham was consistent in always adding to the deeds of the day.

The etrog symbolises the goodly man, the goodly deed and the goodly spiritual credit.


According to the Mishnah (Rosh HaShanah 1:2) there are four new years, not one. They include Sukkot, when the world is judged in relation to water.

Most people would say that this reference to water means the same as rain. The Tiferet Yisra’el, a great commentator on the Mishnah, says it means the water we drink.

The two are obviously connected. If there is rain, there is water to drink. If there is no rain – or insufficient – we need to find other sources of water, and Israel’s desalination projects are a leading example to the world of what can be done.

(Isn’t it ironic and insulting that so much of the world belittles and besmirches Israel but still willingly utilises our expertise and experience?)

Water, however, has a wider significance. It is connected with birth; if God blesses the breaking of the mother’s waters, then there will be children and the world will have the sounds of joy and the assurance of a future.

It is involved at the other end of life too, in the preparation of the deceased for sacred burial, symbolising our recognition that those whose earthly career is over deserve to be treated reverently and remembered for their contribution to history, its macrocosm or its microcosm.

According to the mystics, water also represents redemption, the overflowing of God’s blessing: “You shall draw water in joy from the wellsprings of salvation”, says the Prophet (Isa. 12:2-3) in words which we echo in the Sabbath night havdalah.

Rabbi Raymond Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, Australia’s oldest and most prestigious congregation. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem where he answers interesting questions.

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