Sunday, September 15, 2013

Dwelling in the Sukkah

Once again, we are approaching the Time of Our Joy – Sukkos, my favorite time of the year. There is much to prepare, and in our marriage we have worked out a division of labor – it is only fair, right? Everyone has to contribute. What we do is this: I build the sukkah; my husband stays out of the way. 

(There seems to exist a home movie of my husband from the late fifties, when he was a toddler barely in his third year, sitting in his crib and happily minding his own business. Apparently, his father stuck a screwdriver in his son's hand and started the camera. In two minutes flat, toddler-boy found all the screws and took his whole crib apart, laughing maniacally as it fell asunder about him. Demolition - he's your man. Construction? Not so much.)

My husband is very proud of how he has perfected his skills over the years – he will be the first to tell you that he is now able to stay out of the way b’hiddur – a mitzvah beautified! Sometimes though, the stress of it all gets to him, and he might want to come home and relax, and then I may have to tell him, “I’m sorry, sweetheart, but there’s still some more way to be stayed out of!” And he soldiers on, heroically.

Personally, I couldn’t stay away if you paid me. I love building the sukkah; I love decorating it and beautifying it; I love dwelling in it. I feel like I am creating this little holy place in the universe for G-d to come and live in, with us; I get to play house with Hashem. He is the Daddy. And nowhere else – except by the Kotel – do I feel as close to Him as I do in the sukkah.

For many years now, I have taken upon myself not to eat bread or grain products, or to drink wine (which I do a lot), outside the sukkah, and, weather permitting, I usually try to sleep in the sukkah at least a couple of nights. My husband is fragile; he sleeps indoors. As a woman I am not obligated to keep any of these observances, which are time-bound and therefore incumbent only on men. Women are exempt from mitzvos aseh shehaz’man gramma, “positive” time-bound mitzvos, and that is the commonly cited reason why women are not obligated to dwell in the sukkah.

If you ask me, I don't think that is the whole story – there are many other holiday observances that are even more strictly time-bound than sukkah, such as fasting on Yom Kippur, hearing the Megillah, drinking four cups of wine and eating matzo during the Seder, Maggid - the retelling of the Exodus, kindling Chanukah lights, and others (not to mention Kiddush every Shabbos), that are nonetheless equally incumbent on women; and don't forget that it is universally accepted that women have taken upon themselves to take the Arba Minim, the Four Species - and Ashkenazi women make a brocho on them. There has to be some further factor involved here. 

I bellieve it has to do with the fact that the sukkah is external, outdoors, outside the tent, if you will, and therefore bordering on the public sphere. Not that a Jewish woman is prohibited from entering the public sphere, but the Torah always exempts her from any necessity of doing so. In some places it actually was a public sphere – where it may have been necessary for several families to share a sukkah, or if the only one available was the Community sukkah; and in such cases it would not be proper for a woman to mingle with men from outside her own household – or for those men to mingle with her. (Of course, the perfect solution would be to build a separate women's sukkah. In pink.) Additionally, a mother needs to be where her children are (which is why she is exempt from time-bound mitzvos in the first place), and even though babies are certainly brought out to experience the sukkah, I don’t think it has ever been suggested that all the cribs should be moved out for the duration. (Furthermore, some of the activities involved in child care, such as changing dirty diapers, may not even be permissible in the sukkah.) Consequently, she is not obligated. 

Then again, you might not bother to ask me.

So I do these things fully aware that there may be no s’char, Heavenly reward, in store for the whole venture; we are rewarded for fulfilling our obligations, not for doing things – even praiseworthy things – according to our own desires. (Except for the actual building of the sukkah, of course, by which I enable my husband to fulfill his obligation to dwell therein.) But who knows – maybe there could be just an itsy-bitsy, teensy-weensy, little baby s’char? If not, there is always the reward that lies inside the sukkah right now.*

Being that I am very interested in interior decorating, I have to tell you a little bit about what it looks like. Our balcony allows only for a 6'x9' edifice, and it is a canvas sukkah - a support structure of metal tubing, covered all around with canvas walls. My walls, however, are not made from canvas, but from a floral upholstery fabric, which I lugged home in my younger, more vigorous days, and sewed together, yard after yard, with Velcro flaps to hold it in place. The fabric is very sturdy, and holds up beautifully both in rain and shine.

I wanted my sukkah to be decorated with elements from nature, but at the same time I was not interested in the seasonal fall colors, which might have been an obvious choice. It took a bit of searching, but a finally found this material - green, covered all over with pink roses and other florals. Thus, the sukkah is already its own decoration – but it doesn’t stop there…
The western wall, by the entrance - last year's look
A view towards the east, with a draped seat of honor for my husband

The table is set and waiting for the Ushpizin
Oh yes, a person like me can have a lot of fun with this Yom Tov! I hope you will too - Chag Sameach!

Shalom Uv'racha!

PS: If you enjoyed this post you might want to explore my companion blog Rosebud's Castle, where I write about things like interior decorating, party planning, and the occasional recipe...

*PPS: Since I wrote this post I have been delighted to discover from a reliable halachic source that if a woman does dwell in the Sukkah it is actually counted in her favor, as if she had performed a bona fide Divine commandment - in Frumspeak parlance, "she gets a mitzvah" - and she does receive s'char, Heavenly reward, for what she has done. 


  1. Reading this post makes me feel small and humble. You truly are an always. My mindset in regards to the upcoming yom tov has changed for the better. Thank you. Keep those beautiful words coming!

    1. So thrilled that I have inspired you! But don't feel small - feel that you are growing... Thank you for your kind comment! Gut Yom Tov & a Gut Kvittel!