Sukkah pointers

October 10, 2019 by Rabbi Raymond Apple
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Want some Sukkah pointers?…ask the rabbi.

Rabbi Raymond Apple


Some sukkot are so tiny that a person can hardly squeeze in. Others are so huge that they could accommodate an army.

The biggest of all is the sukkah of Leviathan, a huge sea creature whose hide will cover the tent in which the righteous will be seated for the ultimate messianic banquet.

In the Pesikta, Rabbi Levi explains that whoever fulfils the mitzvah of sukkah in this world will dwell in the sukkah of Leviathan in time to come.

Not that Leviathan the monster is to be praised and admired despite its massive size. Isaiah says (27:1) that God will use His sword against “Leviathan the straight serpent and Leviathan the crooked serpent, and He will kill the dragon that is in the sea”. The two Leviathans are respectively male and female, according to the Talmud (Bava Batra 74b).

Samson Raphael Hirsch points out that the name Leviathan (found in Psalm 104:25-26) comes from the same Hebrew root as “melaveh” and “halvayah” (“accompanying”). “Leviathan” therefore has the general connotation of society.

God approves and encourages the formation of groups for the study of Torah and the service of one’s fellow man.

But not every group is formed for good and constructive purposes. Think of the Tower of Babel and you get the point. God feels impelled to attack an animal or human society which clubs together to wreak fear, fright and terror.

What has the Leviathan to do with Sukkot? At the time of the final resurrection, there will be a banquet at which the flesh of the Leviathan will be served and from the monster’s hide, God will construct a massive tent.

Maimonides gives the banquet of Leviathan a spiritual and intellectual connotation: it will be the climactic gathering of the learned tzaddikim.


The words “sukkah” and “shalom” go together.

Many of our prayers ask God to spread over us “sukkat shalom”, “the sukkah of peace”.

The imagery arises out of the shape of the sukkah as a protective covering. If we can sit together under the same sukkah, we will have peace.

Peace comes when we no longer hide from each other behind a wall or shout at one another across a divide. Peace comes when we sit side by side and recognise our common humanity.

Lord Jakobovits offers another perspective: “The sukkah serves as a token of peace perhaps because it is a symbol of moderation and compromise.

“It must be a temporary abode (‘dirat ar’ay’) and yet be used like a permanent home (‘k’eyn taduru’); its covering must be thick enough to provide more shade than sunshine inside and it should yet be loose enough to allow the stars to be seen through it; the covering material must be of plants ‘grown from the earth’ and yet be detached from the ground.

“The sukkah must be at least 10 handbreadths high and yet no more than 20 cubits (approximately 3 feet and 37 feet respectively); it must accommodate a person and yet need hold only his head and the greater part of his body; it must be specially built for the festival (at least in part) and may yet be left standing from year to year.

“Moderation and compromise are the ingredients of peace” (“Journal of a Rabbi”, 1966, page 412).

The theme of unity figures not only in relation to the sukkah but in the laws and customs of the “arba’ah minim”.

Each of the four plants is different and distinctive, yet all are needed or else the mitzvah cannot be fulfilled.

The lesson is that unless the human community, likewise composed of many different types and groups, is bound together in co-existence and cooperation, the world and its inhabitants cannot hope to survive.

Unity also comes into the sacrificial ritual for Sukkot.

When the Temple was standing, seventy bullocks were offered, symbolic of what was then thought to be the seventy nations of the world. The festival taught the importance of praying for mankind as a whole with all its nations and groups.


Hoshana Rabbah, the seventh day of Sukkot, has an unfortunate fate.

Tucked in between the excitement of Sukkot and the exuberance of Simchat Torah, it seems to be largely ignored and broadly neglected.

Yet it has a spiritual flavour that the rabbinic works acknowledge when they speak of the cantor wearing a white kittel and the congregation using Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur melodies for the prayers.

Its very name conveys this message. “Hoshana” is a phrase from Hallel that means “Salvation”; the Hallel says, “O God, please send salvation”.

Colloquially, “hoshanot” are the willow twigs (“aravot”) that are beaten towards the end of the service in token of our appeal to God to beat out of us the last trace of our sins.

Hoshana Rabbah is a day of judgment, especially amongst the kabbalists. The Zohar says that on this day, the final decree goes out from the House of the King. This is why in some circles the day is called “Yom HaChotem”, “The Day of Sealing”.

The reason for the day bearing the extra name of “Rabbah”, which means great or many, is probably the number of prayers said that day that begin with the word “Hoshana”.


Waving the lulav up and down, and to all the points of the compass, acknowledges that God’s rule extends in all directions, as well as in both heaven and earth.

It also recognises that His grace and bounty benefit every part of His Creation.

These are amongst the best-known interpretations of the mitzvah.

In an additional comment on a Talmudic passage, the Tosafot (Suk. 37b) gives it a messianic connotation.

It sees the waving lulav as a symbol of the wind blowing through the plants and trees, quoting the words we know from the Shabbat evening service, “Then shall all the trees of the forest sing before the Lord when He comes to judge the earth” (Psalm 96:12).

In a similar fashion, the Midrash asks why God instructed Israel to wave the lulav and says that when God took Israel out of Egypt (Psalm 114) “the mountains skipped like rams”.

Similarly, when the time comes for Him to bring redemption to all mankind, the mountains and hills will leap forward in their delight and all the trees of the forest will sing with joy.

We shake the lulav to show our yearning for the messianic age and to remind God of His promise.

This is one of the reasons why Sukkot is called in rabbinical literature “he-chag”, “the” festival, because it not only reminds us of our history, when little ramshackle huts protected our ancestors from the buffeting of the elements, but it foreshadows our future, when all mankind will sit in unity in God’s universal sukkah.

There they will call upon the One Eternal God, and every part of the universe will acclaim the grandeur and power of its King.

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