All Encompassing

One of the lessons of this Holiday is that it encompasses the totality of our existence. Dwelling in the Sukkah is the only Mitzvah that involves the entire person. Even one’s clothing and boots are invited into the Sukkah.  But what about immersion in a Mikveh?  Although the water of the Mikveh envelops the entire person, we do not immerse ourselves while clothed and the immersion is of short duration. We certainly don’t “dwell” in a Mikveh.

There is another all-embracing feature to the Sukkah. The Talmud tells us that “all of Israel are fit to sit in one Sukkah.” Indeed, the first “Sukkah” was formed by the “clouds of Glory” that surrounded and protected the Jewish People as they wandered through the desert for 40 years. This means that if we had one Sukkah large enough to contain all of the Jewish people, at least theoretically, there would be no impediment to their fulfilment of the Mitzvah to dwell in a Sukkah. This idea is unparalleled. There is no other Mitzvah like it. The Sukkah is the ultimate all-encompassing Mitzvah!

Likewise, the Four Species that we take and wave are symbolic of the all-encompassing emphasis of this Holiday. First, these four species are said to represent all the different classes of Jews. Midrash also symbolically relates them to four integral parts of our body: heart, spine, eyes and mouth.

The Esrog is unique among fruits in that it grows and thrives in all four seasons. This allows the Mitzvah to unify all of the disparate seasons even though Sukkos occurs in the Fall.

We shake these Four Species in six directions (south, north, east, up, down and west) to underscore G‑d’s unity within the six directions of space. Here again the Mitzvah unifies all six directions.


Another area in which we see the notion of totality in this Holiday is the word for the covering of the Sukkah—schach. Indeed a Sukkah is so-called because of its schach, the temporary and flimsy covering of the Sukkah. And while it is a reminder of the fragility of life in this world, it is also a symbol of G‑d’s protective cover.

The word schach numerically adds up to the number 100, which, of course, connotes perfection. It also conveys a powerful lesson: notwithstanding the temporal nature and trivial value of these loose branches, that is where G‑d invests His greatest strength. It also conveys the lesson that G‑d’s power can be expressed through any medium and that He identifies with simplicity. Simplicity is actually a powerful expression of perfection because it is receptive to everything, just like a clean slate upon which anything can be written.

The Five Senses

There is another area where we can observe the all-encompassing nature of the Festival of Sukkos.

Our Creator endowed us with five senses: seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and feeling. Judaism, which is primarily concerned with our effects on the physical world, seeks to refine and elevate these senses.

There are many Mitzvos and Jewish customs which involve seeing.  The Torah describes coming to the Bais Hamikdash three times a year for the so called “pilgrimage” Festivals as “seeing the face of G‑d.” One came to the Temple to see and be seen.

When the Torah commands us to wear tzitzis, the fringes on the four corners of our garments, it exhorts us to “see them” so that we will remember all of the commandments.

The monthly ritual of blessing the new moon requires us to see the moon.

Many more Mitzvos are associated with hearing. We must hear the Shofar, hear the reading of the Torah and hear the reading of the Megillah, just to name a few examples. Perhaps even more significantly, Judaism’s most important prayer begins with the word Shema, which means “hear.”

References to the sense of taste are ubiquitous in Jewish life. In addition to all of the things we are commanded not to taste we are also commanded to eat certain foods. For example, we are commanded to eat Matzah on Passover. We are enjoined to eat three meals on Shabbos and eat festive meals on every Jewish Holiday.  Jewish customs abound with food requirements such as Hamantashen on Purim, apples dipped in honey on Rosh Hashanah, etc. More pointedly, we must eat in a Sukkah.

The sense of touch is evident in all the Mitzvos which require doing things with and to our bodies, such as wearing tzitzis, donning Tefilin on our heads and arms, taking a Lulav in our hands during Sukkos, and of course, circumcision.

The olfactory sense is seldom used in rituals save for Havdalah when we smell the besamim, but it was an important part of the Sacrificial offering, which was characterized as “a pleasant fragrance for G‑d.”

The Five Senses of Sukkos

The Festival of Sukkos is unique in that it involves all of our five senses.

We are required to see the schach (covering of branches) of the Sukkah so that we know that G‑d provided our ancestors with shelter when they sojourned in the desert. Indeed, one of the roots of the word sukkah is related to vision. The Matriarch Sarah, our Sages tell us, was also named Yiskah, because she was endowed with prophetic vision and that everyone gazed at her beauty.

Sukkos also directs us to hear the recitation of the special blessing we make when we eat in the Sukkah. And, interestingly, the word Sukkah is itself etymologically related to a Biblical word haskeis, which means “listen.”  One must hear the recitation of Kiddush, the blessings on the Sukkah, etc., when dwelling in the Sukkah.

Tasting is an integral part of dwelling in the Sukkah, which in practice means that we are to eat our meals in the Sukkah, particularly on the first two nights of the Holiday.

The tactile aspect of Sukkos involves building the Sukkah, holding the Four Species and shaking them each day of the Festival (except for Shabbos). These acts all require touching the materials and objects of the Mitzvah. It is also interesting to note that the word Sukkah can also be related to the word sach, which means “anoint” or “coat,” both of which are tactile actions.

And while there is no obligation to smell anything during the Holiday, we are surrounded by aromatic flora. In addition, during this Holiday we are outdoors and are constantly exposed to many fragrant scents in our midst.  Moreover, Midrash teaches us that at least two of the Four Species, the Esrog and the Myrtle, are known for their beautiful fragrances, which symbolize the Jews who are known far and wide for their good deeds. Good deeds endow us with a good reputation which spreads far and wide like a pleasant fragrance that wafts through the air, reaching distant places.

The Sukkah of Peace

In our prayers, we describe the state of peace in the future using the metaphor of the Sukkah: “And spread upon us the Sukkah of Your peace.” One of the distinctive qualities of the Messianic Age is the way it will bring completion and perfection to everything positive. In the absence of the disruptive power of evil, the forces of goodness and holiness will assert themselves. We will be able to immerse ourselves totally in the Mikveh of Divine knowledge and moreover remain there indefinitely. Indeed, the future deluge of G‑dly knowledge will envelop us and everything connected to us.

All of our senses will be fully activated to see, hear, savor, feel and smell the incredible Divine energies which will be revealed in the Messianic Age.

And, finally, we will experience an unprecedented sense of unity with all Jews that will enable us to dwell together in one Sukkah.

When we sit in our Sukkahs and perform the added Mitzvah of taking the Lulav we should imagine life in the future and how it will be the most balanced amalgamation of all of our faculties. Better still, let us resolve to do one more Mitzvah so that this will be the year we will celebrate Sukkos in the Bais Hamikdash with Moshiach.  Then we will not need to use our imagination.