Can we build a sukkah on the top of a camel? We may not ever have contemplated this question, but the Mishna, the first written Rabbinic collection of ‘Oral Law’, does. And perhaps so should we, as we still wait for our new building, so near completion, to open its doors. And so, if we are not in our new building, but in temporary accommodation, where can we build our communal Sukkah?
The primary mitzvah of Sukkot is leshev ba sukkah (sitting/dwelling in a sukkah). The reason for this is given in Lev 23:42-43. We should live in booths for seven days to remind us that our ancestors lived in booths when God brought them out of Egypt, in other words, to provide a historical link with the past.
Booths also remind us of the fact that Sukkot is a harvest festival. Booths are temporary shelters, which were built in the fields for harvesters to shelter against the sun. A reference to it being a shelter against the sun can be found in the book of Jonah, who build himself a sukkah when he left Nineveh. This is also the reason why the s’chach, the roof of a sukkah, must provide more shade than it lets through sun.
Most Rabbis explain that we should dwell in sukkot at this time to teach us humility. Although Sukkot is a happy festival, we should not feel too self-congratulatory for all we have or rely too much on the permanency of our homes (and synagogues).
This year, if we feel that building a sukkah on a camel in either Hatch End’s or the Masonic Centre’s car park is not possible (and yes, we would be allowed to, however, sadly, we would not be able to climb up to it on Shabbat and festivals), we should not feel too despondent that we cannot fulfill this particular mitzvah. For this year, more than any other year, we’ll experience exactly what Sukkot is all about: we do gather in temporary accommodation and, as we visit each other’s personal sukkot we will experience the humility of a nomadic existence, which will remind us of our ancestors in the wilderness, but above all, we will rejoice in celebrating together. Chag sameach!