Succoth: Our Protective Fortress
The sukkah booth that we live in during the Succoth holiday is by definition a temporary dwelling. A structure over twenty cubits (ten meters) tall is a permanent structure and thus invalid as a sukkah. An exposed hut with only two walls and a handbreadth for the third, on the other hand, is perfectly acceptable.
And yet, this rickety booth is our protective fortress. As King David said, "You protect them in a sukkah from the strife of tongues" [Ps. 31:21].
How can such a flimsy structure be a paradigm of protection and safety?
The Sukkot of the Great Assembly
To better understand the metaphor of the sukkah, we should examine a remarkable Talmudic passage. The book of Nehemiah [8:17] records that, from the days of Joshua, the Jewish people had not dwelt in sukkot until the mitzvah was reinstated after their return from Babylonian exile. Is it possible that all those centuries this mitzvah was neglected?
The Talmud in Arachin 32b explains that the Jewish people always performed the mitzvah of dwelling in sukkot. However, the sukkot erected by the Great Assembly in Nehemia's time were very special. They provided a protective quality that had not existed since the days of Joshua bin Nun.
In fact, these were not even physical sukkot, but rather a unique spiritual act of the Great Assembly. "They prayed and abolished the evil inclination for idolatry - and this merit protected them like a sukkah."
The Ultimate Fortress
Clearly, the protective value of the sukkah is of a spiritual nature. The eternal truth is that the sukkah - purposely defined as a structure so flimsy that it cannot even be called a proper dwelling - is a fortress protecting us from all adversaries and foes. What is it that transforms the open and exposed sukkah into a home and stronghold? Certainly not any of its external physical characteristics. Rather, its source of strength is none other than God's word. The sukkah protects us by virtue of the Torah law declaring that this structure be our shelter during the holiday of Succoth.
This is an important message for all times, and especially for our generation. We need courage and strength to return to the land of our fathers and rebuild our national home. Where do we find the moral and spiritual resources to withstand the challenges of those who oppose our return and deny our right to a homeland in Eretz Yisrael? Like the sukkah dwelling, our national home is based on the spiritual strength of God's eternal word. The most advanced weapons may be able to pierce the thickest armor, but they cannot overcome the stronghold of God's word.
This is our eternal fortress and refuge. Our ultimate shelter of security is God's word and promise that the Jewish people will return to their land and the House of Israel will be rebuilt.
The protective sukkah of the Great Assembly was their abolition of all forms of idolatrous inclinations, both old and new. Our moral right is similarly based on the spiritual merit and protection of God's word, through the Torah's eternal mitzvot.
Beautifying the Law
However, we should not be satisfied with following only the minimum requirements of Torah law. Jerusalem was destroyed, the Sages taught, because they judged according to Torah law. What is wrong with that? The Talmud [Baba Metzi'ah 30b] explains: the judges would rule according to the strict letter of the law. They failed to take into account the spirit of the law and pursue a ruling both just and compassionate - lifnim mishurat hadin.
The mitzvah of sukkah is based on God's law, but there is an ancient custom to adorn the sukkah with decorated cloths, fruits and grains [Sukkah 10a]. We should similarly 'adorn' the Torah law. We should go beyond the minimum requirements of the Law, and aspire to the highest level of God's word, in its purest ethical form. Then we will merit that the "fallen sukkah of David" will rise once again, speedily in our days.
[Adapted from Ma'amarei HaRe'iyah vol. I, pp. 149-150]