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Decorating the sukkah

Tishrei 5780 | October 2019
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During the days preceding Sukkot, excited children prepare elaborate decorations to be hung in their family sukkah. While there are clear mitzvot associated with the holiday of sukkot such as arba minim and sitting in the sukkah, what is the origin of the tradition to decorate the sukkah? Is it just to entertain and engage the children or do sukkah decorations have special Halakhic status?

 

The Gemara (Sukkah 28b) teaches that during Sukkot one’s house should be considered temporary and the sukkah permanent, since the rabbis taught, “תשבו כעין תדורו” “reside as you dwell [in your home].” The practical application of this is that if you have nice dishes or sheets, you should use them in the sukkah, yet the Gemara does not classify these items as having special status. However, another Gemara states explicitly that there is a mitzvah to decorate the sukkah. The Gemara in Shabbat (133a) states certain mitzvot require “hiddur” or beautification, such as lulav, sukkah, shofar, tzitzit and writing a Sefer Torah. The source of this mitzva is the verse from Shirat Hayam, “זה אלי ואנוהו” “This is my God and I will glorify Him.” Certain mitzvot should be done “naeh,” beautifully, from the word “anvehu.” How do we beautify a sukkah? With נוי סוכה, sukkah decorations. How do we know these decorations have special status? The Rambam and Shulchan Aruch state that food, which was used to decorate the sukkah, may not be removed nor eaten during the entire holiday unless one specifically designated it to be eaten before the chag as it generally has the status of “Kedushat Sukkah.” The Rema adds that the act of designating no longer applies. (It is permitted to remove decorations, except on Shabbat and Yom Tov, out of fear they will be damaged, i.e. by rain.)

 

The emphasis on beautifying the sukkah and that the decorations take on kedusha of the sukkah are essential parts of the mitzvah of sukkah. While Sukkot is a holiday which reminds us to be wary of too much materialism, it still demonstrates the inherent value in using and creating beauty for the purpose of glorifying Hashem in this world.

Karen Miller Jackson

is a Jewish educator and writer, who studies and teaches at Matan HaSharon and recently completed Matan HaSharon’s Morot l’Halakha program. She has an MA in Talmud and Midrash from NYU.