Sukkot: Dining Al Fresco

“Dwelling” in a Sukkah is one of the few mitzvot that one does not completely fulfill unless one has the proper intention.  Sleeping and eating in a Sukkah, making the “booth” one’s home for a week is, among other things, in commemoration of the “clouds of glory” that sheltered the Israelites upon leaving Egypt.  So “that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel to dwell in booths, when I brought them out of the land of Egypt…” (Vayikra / Leviticus 23: 43).

A logical question to ask then, is why don’t we celebrating Passover in a Sukkah?  Or maybe celebrate Sukkot some time in the month of Nissan, perhaps following Passover?  Why now?

The Sages list several reasons, but the essence is that the fulfillment of the mitzvah should be recognized and performed for the sake of being Gd’s commandment.  During Nissan, the weather is warming up after the winter, while in Tishrei, the evenings are cool, they reason.  Therefore, it is obvious that Jews are not building and living in the Sukkot merely for their own enjoyment.

This makes very little sense to me, especially given the climate change of the last few decades or centuries.  The weather has been roughly between 65 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit.  To my best recollection, the temperature has been similar the last two years that I celebrated Sukkot here.  These summertime temps that are not uncomfortable to dine nor sleep in.  If anything, it’s been too hot outside.  Dining al fresco in this climate is a special treat for me, since I have an enclosed porch.  Yup, if given the chance, I would eat outside in a shaded booth just ‘cuz.

I also don’t like this reasoning because it’s about proving something.  Since when do Jews care about what other people might think?  We are, after all, carrying a palm branch, myrtle branches, willow branches and a citron with us in our travels for the holiday and shaking them around ritually.  Nevermind that throughout the rest of the year, sizeable numbers of religious Jewish men wear knotted strings hanging outside of their pants (tzitzit) and black hats all year round.

Sure, there are other reasons given, but they all seem just about as much cop out reasons as the above.  I’d like to suggest another reason.  Passover is on ט’ו, the fifteenth of the month of Nissan.  Sukkot is on ט’ו, the fifteenth of Tishrei.  They are at opposite points of the Jewish calendar, that is to say, they are roughly six months apart (sometimes there are thirteen months in the Jewish lunar calendar).  On the first night of Sukkot, men are obligated to eat a meal in the Sukkah (women are welcome to join).  And what does a meal consist of?  Halachically speaking, it must contain at least an olive-size amount of bread.

Now, on Passover, it is a mitzvah to eat a portion of matzah, which is eaten at the Seder.  The Seder is, of course, to commemorate the exodus from Egypt.  However, on all holidays, and in fact, even every week on Shabbat, kiddush is said on wine before a meal, זכר לציאת מצרים, in memory of the exodus from Egypt.  It would seem that the major event of Gd’s deliverance of the Israelites from bondage in Egypt and making them his chosen people was a seminal event, marking a covenant to be remembered for generations to come.  This is done so on Passover, with great pomp and circumstances, and of course, cleaning.

The exodus is recalled throughout the year at kiddush on Shabbat.  It’s exalted multiple times in daily prayer services.  It’s pretty important.

So where does Sukkot bring us?  Perhaps it’s a “booster shot” to keep us remembering Gd’s greatness and kindness towards us until the next Passover rolls around.  The Haggadah says, “In every generation, an individual is obligated to view himself as if he himself left Egypt,” and also “that you should remember the day when you came forth out of the land of Egypt all the days of your life” (Devarim / Deuteronomy 16:3).   There is no reason to believe these statements should be limited to Passover.  In fact, at my very first Sukkot meal in Israel, two years ago, after making the HaMotzei blessing and distributing the bread, my hosts sat in silence, in order to have the proper intention upon eating the bread of fulfilling the commandment of eating in the Sukkah and recalling the clouds of glory that sheltered the Israelites upon leaving Egypt.

So on Sukkot, when the weather is beginning to cool from summer to fall, we still recall חג האביב, the springtime holiday of Passover, gathering again to join in a meal of bread, but this time with leaven and levity.


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Ilene Rosenblum is a writer and marketing professional living in Jerusalem.

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