I love Sukkot – and not just because it means that Yom Kippur is over. I love the ritual of it, the strangeness of it.
Sukkahs* are like great big, green, sweet-smelling cubby houses; refreshing, delightful and enchanting in their quaintness and oddity. They’ve got that rustic charm thing going on; that outdoorsy nature thing; that crazy, crass, colourful noy sukkah (decoration) thing. Best of all, they’ve got that let’s squeeze in together for a yom tov meal under the stars and get little thrills from accidentally touching elbows and pressing legs against the person who’s squashed in beside you – all the while taking in the fragrances of recently cut vegetation and the aroma of the actual night air around you. It is positively erotic. (Well, almost.)
I don’t sleep in the sukkah. I never have, which is a pity in some ways. The fact that this is a mitzvah that it is only incumbent on men doesn’t get me feeling all feministy. I don’t get worked up about not having to camp out for a week in Tishrei with the bugs and the spiders. I just say goodnight and wish the sukkah sleepers well.
But really, this makes no sense. Sukkahs conjure up images of the desert, when Bnei Yisrael was encamped like one big dysfunctional family and Moshe was trying to keep things together – even though, frankly, not much made sense and the rules were being made up as they went along. Sukkot transports me to a time in our national memory when late at night, as the sluggish desert wind brushed tents and the hand of sleep stroked brows, one might catch the delicate sound of a neighbour being pleasured by her husband. The half-stifled cry that is neither sigh nor moan but somewhere in between, calls for him to stop and continue forever at once.
When I think of sukkahs at night, this is what comes to mind.
So, I wonder….When our sukkahs today are guaranteed modesty by garden walls, wrapped tight and secure by canvas, tarpaulin or wood, why are we not all diving for the one (tznius) chance we have each year to make love under a blanket of stars in the perfume of night? Why are we not pulling out mattresses and pillows and curling up together for a midnight tryst in the moonlight, so that starlight breezes can stroke our backs while lovers trace our contours in the darkness?
Surely, the mitzvah of sleeping in the sukkah should not stop at sleeping? If we are truly to pause and realise the impermanence of life, to try to connect, once a year, to remember wandering in the desert without a home, without a land, it makes sense that we should be encouraged to live and love under the cover of leaves and between the shimmer of stars.
So I say, let’s revisit the mitzvot of Sukkot.
I will if you do.
*For purposes of clarity, I have referred to sukkah in the plural as ‘sukkahs’ (rather than the Hebrew plural, ‘Sukkot’) in order to reduce the possibility of confusion between the use of the plural for the structure and references to the festival, Sukkot
This essay was first published on Jewrotica.