Customs and Traditions of the Sukkah
By Avi Lazerson
Sukkot is probably the most enjoyable festival in the Jewish yearly cycle. For one week, we eat, drink, sleep and entertain our friends in our succah. For the children, the succah is an experience that rivals, and exceeds in many cases, an amusement park. The children help the father construct the small succah, and later they eat in the succah, and even later, they lay down to sleep under the roof of the palm leaves. They peek through the leaves to see if they can see the stars.
To enjoy this holiday, which is celebrated not only by the ultra orthodox Jews, but by even non religious Jews, requires just a small knowledge of what constitutes a succa. The following is a guide on what constitutes a succa.
The walls of the succah should be sturdy enough that the wind will not shake them or blow out candles placed in the succah. A succah should really have four walls, but three walls are also acceptable, although certainly not so cozy. Many people use wooden boards or panels for walls, some purchase pre-made Sukkoths made of metal with walls of strong fabric that attaches to the metal frame.
The roofing of the succah, which is called "sckach", is the most important ingredient of the succah. Many people use palm branches or wooden slats. The "sckach" must be from something that grew from the ground, but is now detached from the ground. Hence a vine which is still growing in the ground is not used.
The "sckach" roofing may not be covered with a roof, therefore it can not be under any roofing or covering, - even under a tree is not good, since the tree lends protection to the succah instead of the "sckach". However if it rains, some cover the succah with a covering that is removed after the rain.
It is important that the roofing material be laid on the roof close together. If there is a space more than 12 inches it is not considered a valid succah roof. Most people like to compact the "sckach" and leave just a very small space to be able to see the stars at night through the openings.
A word of caution to those who wish to use branches of trees to cover their sukkahs: Most branches dry in the sun and shrink substantially, so that what was a thick covering on the first day, may not give any shade by the last day.
Most people decorate their succahs. The most common motif is the 7 species of the Land of Israel. Children adore making drawings and hanging decorations that make the succah feel more "theirs" and parents aid them by providing the means for this activity. Others buy commercially manufactured decorations. In many communities, contests are made to determine the most beautiful succah.
Imagine the thrill of the children who have labored with their parents to build the succah with their own hands, and later labored to create beautiful decorations which they so proudly hang in their Sukkah. The first night of the succah is a thrill beyond the stolid meal in the house. The father makes kiddush on wine as the family is sitting in the sukkah.
What a joy for the family as they sing together songs in the succah after finishing the meal the children quickly rearrange the furniture to be the first to sleep in the succah. For a child, the sleeping in a succah is not an experience to quickly be forgotten.
And as we eat, drink and sleep in our succah, we are secure knowing that G-d is watching down upon us and will protect us from the dangers that lurk about on the face of the earth.
from the October 2001 Edition of the Jewish Magazine