Commentary for Sukkot

8 Oct

Exodus 15:2, sung by the Israelites as part of the Song of the Sea, reads “This is my God, and I shall glorify Him.” This seems like a pretty straightforward verse, but in reality, it brings up some very interesting questions. One of these questions is asked by Rabbi Ishmael: “Is it possible for a being of flesh and blood to add glory to its Creator?” Rabbi Ishmael then answers his own question: “It simply means I shall be beautiful before him in observing the commandments. I shall prepare before him a beautiful lulav, a beautiful sukkah, beautiful tzitizt, beautiful tefillin (Shabbat 133b).” From Rabbi Ishmael’s statement, we derive the concept of hiddur mitzvah (beautifying a mitzvah). You could make Kiddush in a paper cup if you wanted, and you would still fulfill the mitzvah (provided that the cup is large enough to hold the minimum about of wine or grape juice required), but having a special, fancier cup that is only used for Kiddush makes the mitzvah more beautiful.

One of the ways that we perform hiddur mitzvah on Sukkot is by decorating our sukkah to make it more beautiful. These decorations can be anything from flowers to paper chains to plastic fruit to pictures of famous biblical scenes. The Lubavtich Chassidic sect takes a different approach to the idea of decorating the sukkah: “Our guest are our decorations.”

Sukkot is a holiday about community. It is one of the three pilgrimage holidays (along with Passover and Shavuot). When the Holy Temple still stood, Israelites would come from all across the land and gather together in Jerusalem to make offerings to God. Just as the Israelites gathered together back then, so too do we gather together in our sukkot today, enjoying hot food and warm company to help the walls of the sukkah keep out the cold.

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