Seven Reasons For Sukkah Sitting

Diverse sources on why we eat and sleep in the sukkah

Print this page Print this page

"But besides giving pleasure, it is a considerable help in the practice of virtue. For people who having had both good and ill before their eyes have rejected the ill and are enjoying the good, necessarily fall into a grateful frame of mind and are urged to piety by the fear of a change to the reverse, and also therefore in thankfulness for their present blessings they honor God with songs and words of praise and beseech Him and propitiate Him with supplications that they may never repeat the experience of such evils."

Philo says two things: He says that it's a pleasure for a prosperous person to remember the "bad old days." But he goes one step further; he says that sitting in the sukkah reminds us how far we have come and leads us to praise and thank God for all the kindness He has bestowed upon us.

A Lesson in Humility

The Rashbam, R. Shemuel Ben Meir, lived in France in the 12th century. He was one of Rashi's brilliant grandsons and is known for his Talmud and bible commentaries. In his commentary to the verse from Leviticus quoted above (23:43), he gives still another reason for sitting in the sukkah:

"Why do I command you to do this?… Do not say in your hearts, 'My own power and the might of my own hand have won this wealth for me. Remember that it is the Lord your God who gives you the power to get wealth' (Deuteronomy 8:17-18). Therefore, the people leave houses filled with good at the harvest season and they dwell in sukkot as a reminder that they had no property in the desert or homes to inhabit. This is why God designated Sukkot at the harvest season, so that a person's heart should not grow haughty because of houses filled with everything good, lest they say: 'Our hands made all of this wealth for us.'" 

In simple English, the Rashbam is saying: The sukkah is a lesson in humility; it comes to prevent a swelled head. God commanded us to sit in the sukkah precisely at the harvest season when we are congratulating ourselves for our successful harvest and our fancy homes. The humble sukkah reminds us: Everything you eat and everything you own comes from God.

The Rambam [Maimonides], incidentally, combines the reasons given by Philo and the Rashbam. In his Guide to the Perplexed (3:43), he says that sitting in the sukkah teaches Jews "to remember his evil days in his day of prosperity. He will thereby be induced to thank God repeatedly and to lead a modest and humble life." Thus, according to Maimonides, the sukkah is meant to induce both a feeling of gratitude and a feeling of humility.

Increasing Our Faith 

Rabbi Yitzhak Aboab lived in Spain in the 15th century. In his classic book of Jewish ethics, Menorat Hamaor, he gives still another explanation for sitting in the sukkah (Ner 3, Kelal 4, Part 6, Chapter 1, ed. Mossad Harav Kuk, p. 315):

"When the Sages said in the Tractate of Sukkah (fol. 2a): 'Go out from your permanent dwellings and live in a temporary dwelling,' they meant that the commandment to dwell in the sukkah teaches us that a man must not put his trust in the size or strength or conveniences of his house, even though it be filled with the best of everything; nor should he rely upon the help of any man, even though he be the lord of the land. But let him put his trust in Him whose word called the universe into being, for He alone is mighty and faithful, and He does not retract what He promises."

Did you like this article?  MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.

Please consider making a donation today.

Rabbi David Golinkin

Rabbi David Golinkin, Ph.D., is president and rector of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem, where he teaches Talmud and Jewish law, and he heads the Va'ad Halakhah (committee on Jewish law) of the Masorti, or Conservative, movement's Rabbinical Assembly in Israel.