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Title: Building Sukkahs # 1

Major Focus: Sukkot

Minor Focus: Materialism

Abstract: Why do Jews build sukkahs?

Format: Rabbinic Argument

Topics:
Purpose of Creation


"...in order that your generations may know that I made the Children of Israel to dwell in booths, when I brought them out of the land of Egypt."

Leviticus 23:43

    Why do we build Sukkahs?

  1. Rashbam: God wants us to remember that the Children of Israel lived in fragile tents for forty years in the desert, and were given all they ever needed to eat. When they came to live in the land of Israel, they were able to grow all the good things they would need, such as grains, wine, and oil. God does not want us to think that all these good things are from our own power or strength. All these good things are a gift from God. When we build the Sukkah, we remember where all our blessings of food came from. We should learn to be humble when we live in the Sukkah.
  2. Sefer HaChinuch: Well, that is all true rabbi, but I think it is not so much to make us feel humble, as it is to make us just plain grateful for all our blessings.
  3. Isaac Arama: I think the Sukkah is to remind us that we really don't need a big house and fine furniture to be happy. We can be just as happy if we live a simple life, as if we live with riches. When we are in the Sukkah, we can look up and see the sky, and all the heavenly bodies God put there. This is to remind us that God created the world, God is perfect, there is nothing to be afraid of if we live by God's rules.
  4. Malbim: I think the Sukkah is to remind us of how fragile and precious our lives are. We should not think that if we fill our houses with riches, we are really great people. Our lives in this world are only temporary, and our riches don't mean very much unless we are rich in other ways.

Teacher Study Guide

Text Background: The priests of Israel are given detailed instructions regarding contact with the dead and who they can marry. They are told that they may work in the Sanctuary only if they are in good physical, mental, and spiritual health. Similar rules apply to animals used for the Sacrificial services. Many of the annual holidays, including the festival of building booths, the sukkah, are listed and rules for how they are to be observed.

Objective: In the past several decades there has been a remarkable resurgence of interest in the holiday of Sukkot, and in particular, in the construction of the fragile "booths" which God commanded the Israelites to dwell in (Leviticus 23:43) during the week long celebration.

As late as 1969, when the Editor of Torah Productions first decided to put up one of these fragile dwellings, while living in a major metropolitan center, an elderly lady with a European accent stopped by. With tears in her eyes, she said, "I have not seen a Sukkah since I was six years old!"

Why we do it is easy -- just ask anyone who has ever fulfilled the joy of this mitzvah. The more difficult question, and object of this exercise, is to ask why God made the commandment in the first-place?

Suggestion: Have students first read a comment, explain its meaning in their own words, defend or attack the argument from their personal perspective, and challenge them to think.

Rashbam:

  1. Why would God think it a good thing for us to feel humble when we realize where all our blessings come from?
  2. How would remembering the hardships our ancestors faced in the wilderness make us feel more humble?
  3. Why do we still celebrate the festival of Thanksgiving when there are no more Pilgrims to share their crops with native Americans? Where do you think the Pilgrims got the idea for such a holiday in the fall of the year, rather than the spring, when most agricultural festivals are held? (They knew their Old Testament!)

Sefer HaChinuch:

  1. What is the difference between feeling humble and feeling grateful?
  2. Have you ever helped build a Sukkah? Did it make you feel more humble or more grateful? What else did you feel?

Isaac Arama:

  1. Do you believe that you can be just as happy in a big house with fine furniture, as in a modest house and a simple life?
  2. If the Sukkah is to remind us that riches aren't all that important, then what is?
  3. How do you feel when you look up at the clear night sky?

Malbim:

  1. How does the Sukkah remind us that our lives are "fragile and precious"?
  2. Why aren't rich people necessarily great people? Aren't you a very important person when you are rich?
  3. In what other ways do you think we can be "rich"?