Does God have a tape measure? That sacrilegious thought drifted into my mind for a moment when I learned - four hours before the start of Succot
- that our wooden succa was not kosher.
As compulsive planners and organizers who don't like to leave much to chance, we recharged our electric drill/screwdriver after Rosh Hashana
and set to work, painstakingly erecting the wooden booth days before the fast. Then we hung colored sheets with thumbtacks as background for our prized collection of decorations, most of them earnestly handmade by our kids during their kindergarden and elementary school years. After hours of work, we were ready for the holiday days before the neighbors.
On Monday morning, the eve of Succot, when I was about to go to the newsroom to finish up the Health and Science Page, I noticed the family's retractable tape measure on the desk in our eldest child's room. Odd, but I didn't give it another thought.
Then, around noon, I got an unexpected call from my husband: Our eldest, who is studying for a degree in engineering, decided to measure, out of curiosity, the amount of room between the edge of our upstairs neighbor's balcony and the end of our succa. It was 53 centimeters, making it three centimeters short of the "seven handbreadths" of horizontal air space required by Halacha (each biblical handbreadth is equal to at least eight centimeters) as a minimum for a kosher succa.
"There is no time to dismantle the wooden succa and build it in the courtyard," said my husband, who had called a rabbi and was told there was no way we could use the balcony booth. He had polled our neighbors, who graciously agreed to let us use the communally owned courtyard.
"Meet me at the succa store, and we'll have to buy a new metal pole-and-cloth one. They promise it can be set up in 30 minutes!" My heart sank. Our balcony succa, prepared way in advance, was obsolete and unusable. Does God have a tape measure, and if He does, does He care that our succa is three centimeters too short?
On second thought, this was not the time to fiddle around: Our fates for the New Year are sealed on Yom Kippur
, but the final seal is affixed on Hoshana Raba
, the last day of Succot. But how, I thought, within a few hours of the holiday, were we going to buy, bring home and erect the new succa, dismantle the old succa for wooden planks, and then decorate the new one before the festival began?
The succa store had a few customers when we arrived, but they looked calm - as if they had intentionally gone for their purchases at the last minute in the hope that prices would be lower. Here's a three meter-by-two-and-a-half-meter model for you, said the young salesman. It's NIS 933, and more if you want bamboo s'chach.
"That's 311 for each missing centimeter," I thought to myself. "It's hard to be a Jew, but what can you do?" We paid the bill, insisting we didn't need the bamboo mats since we already had two and they would somehow manage to fit.
While I revved up the drill, tearfully dismantling the old succa, the rest of the family worked well as a team and leveled the ground below our balcony, pulled out stray weeds and constructed the new succa. Incredibly, it was ready in 90 minutes, complete with an electric bulb, table and chairs. We even had some spare minutes before candlelighting to hang decorations from the s'chach.
Getting used to our new surroundings, we recited the blessing on sitting in the succa. We looked up at the bamboo matting and exclaimed: "Isn't this better? Now everyone can sit under the stars." The two different-sized pieces that did not cover all of our wooden succa were miraculously a perfect fit on the new one - not a single bald spot or overlap. The old s'chach and this new succa were destined for each other!
P.S. Our neighbors in identical buildings are invited to borrow our tape measure and plan kosher en terre succa booths in time for 5767.