One thing I’ve always wondered about the holiday of Sukkot: If the makeshift tabernacles that we’re commanded to erect are supposed to function as our houses, then why do we spend so much damn time in them?
Let’s review. We’re commanded to go into the sukkah any time we want to eat. When we sleep. When we hang out with our friends. You know — all the stuff that, normally, would be done at home, we do in a sukkah. Basically, for one week of our lives, we run a 24-hour marathon between our normal lives and our little palm-covered huts.
However, here are the most frequent locations where those actions take place for me:
Eating: At my desk at work, and/or walking down the street.
Sleeping: Subway, riding home from work.
Hanging out: Gmail’s little chat windows.
To be fair, I could definitely accomplish the last one while inside a sukkah. But the others? Not so house-intensive, for the rest of the year. Last year, I was so busy that, instead of trekking to have my lunch at the beautiful (but impractical) West Side Synagogue all the way on 9th Avenue, I just didn’t eat.
This year, I’m going to try to do it different. In our prayers, Sukkot is called “zman simchatenu,” which translates to “the time of our rejoicing (or, if you’re feeling literal, “happy time”). In the times of the Temple, everyone traveled to Jerusalem to bring their harvest offerings.
It really was a vacation time — or, at least, it was as close to a vacation as the Children of Israel got in those days. Even though there are five work-days crammed right in the middle of Sukkot between the first days and Shemini Atzeret, it’s not supposed to be a return to our dreary business of working and running and not-eating-until-9-p.m. — it’s God demanding that, even when we return to our between-holidays lives, we bring a little bit of the holiday with us. And if I have to take a little bit longer to run out to the sukkah and get back, and put my mind in a different mental space just as I put my body in a different physical space…well, that’s putting the “moed” in “hol hamoed,” I guess.
(Note to bosses: I’m not actually going to take a two-hour lunch, I promise. Er…every day.)