The Joy of Building Our First Sukkah

As I’ve become more observant and more familiar with mitzvot and halacha and various minhagim, I’ve been struck by the almost absurdity of the Yom Kippur-Sukkot transition. It seems odd to me that, hours after experiencing the most Awesome day of the Jewish calendar, after going through a grueling and soul-wrenching fast accompanied by walks to shul, much standing, and seemingly endless praying, one would immediately go out and begin building the sukkah in anticipation of Sukkot. Sukkot – zman simchatenu – the holiday of happiness – seems to be in stark contrast to Yom Kippur with all of its solemnity.

On top of the huge spectrum of emotions that seems to occur in hours, there are only 4 days to prepare. 4 days to build a hut, acquire a lulav and etrog (and one can spend hours selecting the best), and plan and cook meals. FOUR DAYS! Isn’t that a bit of a time crunch? Why did Hashem give us no lead time? There are 40 days from Rosh Hodesh Elul to Yom Kippur…many start preparing for Pesach weeks in advance…why this huge rush for Sukkot? Essentially, why is Hashem practically punishing us with this crazy schedule?? And why is this sukkah – this little hut – of such importance if, lets face it, not everyone is gifted with carpentry skills? Why all these challenges?

And then it hit me as my husband gleefully put together our first sukkah this week.

On Yom Kippur, vidduy lists all of our sins. We are faced with everything that we could have possibly done wrong over the last year. In our prayers we say that we are dust, that we are barely worthy, that we have failed – and that we hope to improve and do better next year. We pray for life so that we can be granted the opportunity to do better. During davening or during quiet introspection on Yom Kippur we mentally think of how we can do better: this year I will take on this new mitzvah; this year I will put into practice this halacha that I learned; this year I resolve to speak less lashon hara…we become creative and hopeful. Perhaps it is possible to change; I think I can! I want to do better! And by the time ne’ilah rolls around, we daven so hard saying, “Yes – I can do it – just give me the chance – I know I can!”

And then the shofar is blown, we wolf down food – and what do we do next? Run – don’t walk – to do the first mitzvah that we can. And run we have to because we only have 4 days. And the 4 days is significant because it is not a lot of time! There is no time to waste! If there were more time, such as more than 10 days, then there is greater opportunity for a person to waver in their convictions or for the schedule to become too busy to build a sukkah. It is the time crunch that drives a person to fulfill the mitzva, and if we were given more time, how many of us would opt out for the sake of convenience?

The look on my husband’s face is priceless as he shows off our sukkah. Knowing that he accomplished this huge mitzva, despite the many trips to Home Depot, despite the errors that delayed construction, I can read several emotions in his face: pride in what he built with his hands, satisfaction in fulfilling the mitzva for the first time, giddiness in all of the decorations and lights. But perhaps the most significant emotion is the feeling of “I did it!” – and it’s despite the odds, despite having no time between work and nightfall, despite the construction snafus, despite the bugs (it is Houston, after all). This mitzva is done! And possibly, if I can do this mitzva, then I can do others…

And isn’t that a great feeling to start off a new year?

First published on Oct 1, 2007

24 comments on “The Joy of Building Our First Sukkah

  1. Bob Miller, I’m sure the cooking utensils were much simpler than today; food was MUCH simpler. Bread and roast meat for yom tov, maybe … no trifles with pareve whipped cream for dessert, no kugels with 12 ingredients

  2. In ancient times, were the sukkah materials (walls, schach, supports, fasteners…) and brought by each family to Yerushalayim for assembly there? Did the families also have to bring their own sukkah furniture, cooking and eating utensils, and cooking/baking equipment?

  3. “OUR DAYS! Isn’t that a bit of a time crunch? Why did Hashem give us no lead time? There are 40 days from Rosh Hodesh Elul to Yom Kippur…many start preparing for Pesach weeks in advance…why this huge rush for Sukkot? ”

    In the days of the bais haMikdash it wouldn’t have been feasible to travel so often back and forth to Yerushalayim (one reason for why Shemini Atzeres is so soon after Sukkos) … the Torah is relevant for all generations, not just ours, when we focus so much on cooking huge meals to impress our guests, and our sukkahs are decorated to the max, that four days doesn’t seem like time enough.

  4. I don’t know about anywhere else but last nights’ winds certainly proved that Sukkahs are temporary structures! (along with trees and light poles)

  5. and you certainly can start planning, cooking and freezing way in advance – much easier than pesach! enjoy!

  6. s/b clothesline

    in my October 7th, 2009 16:49 comment

    I’m still working to have more patience to check my comments before posting them!

  7. When we had a canvas sukkah in Houston, we used 1/4″ plywood boards (2′ X 4′ each, with a hole drilled in each corner). We stapled our posters to the boards. [The following year, the boards w/posters could be used again as-is, or new posters could be substituted]

    The boards were attached to the upper and lower tubes of the sukkah frame with clotheline.

    We also used metal wire and turnbuckles to bolster the tubular structure and to keep the canvas relatively flat when it got windy.

  8. For those who prefer a canvas sukkah, you can string clothesline between the poles and use clothespins to hold up the decorations. (Not an original idea of mine; it is the technique of a friend in whose sukkah I spend much time).

  9. Ilanit Meckley said:


    May I suggest that you start building your sukkah during the 8 days between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur?

    Even better, start building your sukkah the two weeks before Rosh HaShanah.

    Ask your local Orthodox Rabbi about this.

  10. Ilanit, thanks for a great insight, and a great post. Enjoy your z’man simchaseinu to the fullest!

    Bob, thanks for the nice story on your sukkah. We’re still using a blue and yellow canvas one, probably the same as you described, that was bought from our neighbors at a shul garage sale. I’m sure its heard the 1986 Mets!

  11. Bob and Sharon (I guess I could actually call you),
    Probably we are using your second one (with the addional door piping). We’ve been using tarp for years (prior to you moving to Indy), but your frame has been a me’chaya. As time has moved on, Baruch Hashem, we’ve built quite a collection of decorations thanks to the Hewbrew Academy of Indianapolis and Arie Crown Hebrew Day School (Chicago).

  12. Neil, I think Bob is right. You have our second Leiter frame. We gave our first one to a neighbor family in Oak Park Michigan when their sukkah blew away. We had our first wooden one by then. It became someone’s first sukkah when we gave it away before we moved to Houston. Thus, the second Leiter after the tarp and pipe one collapsed. Now we’re back to a wooden one. It’s easier to put the decorations up, using pushpins of course.

  13. Neil, my memory is hazy about this, but I think you have our 2nd, somewhat larger, Leiter frame (used in Houston in 1999 along with additional hardware we bought).

  14. Great post.

    While I have thanked Bob before, I’ll do so publically, as we currently possess his first Leiter Sukkah frame. The poles are still holding up, BH.
    Gut Moed.

  15. Mordechai,
    Rabbi Crandall moved to Chicago after this past Pesach to take a new position, with Chai Lifeline. Our older son helped him box his goods for the movers.

  16. Bob, your box-kite simile is apt! I remember how I envied folks with what I called the ‘Brooklyn type’ sukkahs for the ease of construction. Well, one year in Worcester we got one. It was the new model with square tubing (more surface area to catch wind) and aluminum joints preplaced so that the tubing slid into. It took off briefly in a high wind one night, then collapsed when the joints gave way under the stress from the motion and wind. :-( I’m back to a wooden sukkah, engineered by my wife with plans and braces supplied from a place on the internet, standing on a stone floor in a our backyard (also laid by my wife, though she needed me to shlep the stones). We had to wait till we had a house and yard for such a luxury.

    We also use pushpins to put up decorations on the construction sheathing.

    Bob, I see you’re in Indianapolis. Do you know Rabbi Crandel? Do you daven there? If so, please pass on my respects to him. I haven’t seen him in years.

  17. Great story! We also experienced Sukkos in hot, muggy Houston (1998, 1999) and were treated one year to a pre-holiday shiur by a Kollel rabbi on the halachos related to mosquitos invading the sukkah (a real onslaught of flying guests was expected, but not too many showed up, thank G-d). Our 1998 sukkah had belonged to the previous owners of our house and used a shaky tubular frame made out of Home Depot type components, and canvas walls. With Divine help and lots of rope, wire, etc. to hold it together and stiffen the walls, it got us through Sukkos. However, as my older son and I were taking it down after the holiday, it collapsed in a heap!

    Flashback; Our first sukkah (1986) came as a kit from Leiter’s in Brooklyn, including a tubular aluminum frame with cast alloy fittings (tightened with the provided Allen wrench), yellow/blue canvas walls and bamboo-mat schach. I put it together in our backyard on a windy day in Allentown, PA. Because of its construction, it resembled and wanted to behave like a large box kite! I needed to put weights (possibly bricks or cinder blocks, eventually sandbags) on the inside corners to stop it from blowing over. During the assembly, I was entertained by a long radio broadcast of the Mets playing an extra-innings playoff game against the Astros. (Unlike this year’s sorry Mets, those Mets had real pitching).

    Elsewhere (Oak Park, MI and now in Indianapolis) we have used wooden sukkahs made of 4′ X 8′ panels (plywood or composition board on a wooden frame) bolted together) to handle the colder weather. The wood makes it possible to put up posters, etc., with pushpins.

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