Step by step, my family prepared for the joyous holiday of Sukkot. First, Missy Older and a friend, hours after Yom Kippur, assembled the walls as well as laid the beams that would support the s’chach of our sukkah. In addition, those kids affixed our sukkah’s sides to our sukkah’s frame and then tied strings “at intervals of less than 24cm, to a height of at least 80cm” to ensure that those partitions, which were made of fabric, between our sukkah and the universe, were kosher. They swept up after themselves, too.
In celebration of their efforts, they concluded their evening by baking chocolate chip cookies. The family members who had already tucked in for the night enjoyed those sweet treats in the morning. Those other dear ones proposed that baking goodies, after putting up the larger parts of our sukkah, ought to become a new family minhag.
The next day, Older Dude schlepped tables and folding chairs up to our mirpesset, upon which our sukkah stands. Simultaneously, Missy Older checked our s’chach for bugs, for mildew, and for kindred problems and then worked with Older Dude to prevent that vegetative covering from becoming potentially wind borne. That brother and sister made sure, additionally, to lay our “roof” on the wooden bits, which, in turn, sat on our sukkah’s metal frame. Sukkah construction is simple, and it’s vital to keep to the strictures.
On the flip side, whereas a sukkah has rules about how to build it and has a height limit, there are no limits on its width. The potential expansiveness of a sukkah reflects the expansiveness of Hashem’s kindness toward us. This bounty intentionally falls after we have passed through the self-reflection and self change indigenous to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
While the piecing together was occurring on our apartment’s rooftop patio, downstairs, inside our more permanent dwelling, the one marked with mezuzot and used fifty-one weeks of the year, pans were filled and pots were set to simmer. Honey got dribbled on chicken, in cakes, in fruit sauces and in salad dressings. Cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, lemon and similar enhancements scented our kitchen. Younger Dude opened packages of festive napkins, eyed the soda and cake we usually buy only for Shabbot or Hagim, and concocted more wonderful tuna salad. Missy Younger chopped squash, spiced potatoes, and insisted on tasting some of the chicken. It’s a mitzvah to taste food prepared for Shabbot and Yom Tov.
Intermittently, various family members helped prepare our bounty. There was much to do as we were getting ready seven meals’ worth of delicacies (visitors from abroad would be having their entire three day holiday/Shabbot period with us).
Accordingly, we charted which guests (not to be confused with the Ushpizin, Am Yisrael’s seven holy shepherds, Avraham, Yitzhak, Yaakov, Moshe, Aaron, Yoseph, and David) were expected for which meals. Our menus reflected the needs of the very old, of the very young, of the very allergic and of the very vegetarian.
There were, during this span, also, many volleys of calls back and forth between my family and some of our local friends, the ones who would walk to our home during Sukkot and Shabbot Sukkot, and between my family and some of our more geographically distant friends, the ones who would visit during Mo’ed, when vehicular transport would be permitted. Making ready for The Feast of Tabernacles can pleasantly fill significant numbers of hours.
Concurrently, we decorated our sukkah and strung its lights. Our home-away-from-home was beginning to look cozy. Sadly, over the years, my family’s sons and daughters have vetoed the use of the very worn, very precious, art they made in preschool. It seems as though teens and twenties prefer laminated scenes of Israel or “sophisticated” work made in elementary school.
More cooking ensued. Likewise, Computer Cowboy hunted, in the holy city, for the most suitable sets of the four species Since all of our men are beyond the age of bar mitzvah, we needed three sets.
After the trials of the Yomim Noraim, the fact that willow, the arava, which represents the Jew who lacks in both deeds and Torah knowledge, is included in these Arba Minim, comforts me. Judgment is not entirely, completely finished until Hashanah Raba.
Just before the holiday, Computer Cowboy and the boys’ beds came up to our roof, as did our benchers, our candlesticks, and much more. Personally, I find the plastic chairs and folding metal ones we use during this season less comfortable than our worn livingroom sofa, but I can’t envision how we would get that sofa past the hairpin in our stairwell or how any quiet time spent in our salon could improve upon the music of the birds and geckos that serenade just beyond our outdoor hut. The sun, the rain, and the wind, similarly, neither kiss nor scold inside our more regular home. Within our cinderblock apartment, there is less awareness of shifting hours, as can be deduced by the color of the sky, too.
What’s more, although I’ve had the privilege, Baruch Hashem, b’ayin tova, to daven in Jerusalem, and in Tsfat, I continue to find communicating with The Boss to be unique in our sukkah. Hal Cho Mo’ed Mincha in my family’s traditional booth is like no other experience of afternoon prayers.
Granted, during the holiday’s intermediate days, there will be concerts to hear, parks to visit, and friends to meet beyond our neighborhood, yet the essence of this festival, of this historical and agricultural occasion when we are actually commanded to have fun, is the temporary construction, which we assemble. Whether built anew, each year, of plywood, or reconfigured annually, from extra-large Tinkertoy-like frames (we did the former in the New World and do the latter in this Old World), our special, impermanent residence reminds us that we depend, as we always did, and as we always will, upon The Almighty for all of our fortune.
May your days and nights be filled with good mazel! May Sukkot bring you a level closer to Hashem! May you have a joyous holiday!