Sukkot: “Feel Something

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
8 min readOct 9, 2022

“It’s the sense of touch. In any real city, you walk, you know? You brush past people, people bump into you. In L.A., nobody touches you. We’re always behind this metal and glass. I think we miss that touch so much, that we crash into each other, just so we can feel something.” - Det. Graham Waters, played by Don Cheadle in ‘Crash’

What is it about Sukkot that makes it so powerful? Is it the physicality of the rituals — we build a Sukkah, we shake the Lulav, smell the Etrog, experience the weather directly, witness the stars? Tradition teaches that the energy of Sukkot is so intense that the seven shepherds leave the Garden of Eden to join in the light of our earthly Sukkot.

Even that place where souls gone from this world enjoy the light of the Shechinah (Divine Presence) is overpowered by the Sukkah. But why? What is it about the Sukkah that compels even those who have tasted Paradise?

These spirit guests, the “Ushpizin”, are invited each night into our Sukkot. Sephardic Jews even set aside a chair and some holy books for these guests, reminiscent of Elijah’s cup at the Seder. The ancient grouping of Ushpizin only included Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, and David, but today’s groupings have come to include the Prophetesses Sarah, Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, Abigail, Chulda, and Esther, and others. Each day of Sukkot, all seven groups of souls are present, but each takes their turn to lead.

Jewish mystical tradition suggests (Zohar 2:256a) that each group corresponds to a fundamental spiritual aspect through which the world is nourished and perfected. The list includes:

  • love and kindness
  • restraint and personal strength
  • beauty and truth
  • eternality and power
  • empathy and receptivity
  • holiness and spiritual foundation
  • bringing Heaven down to Earth

The combined magnetic force of these energies, which brings our past into our present, might also explain the power Sukkot could have for the physical participants in the holiday — us. What would it be to manifest these Midot, these attributes, each day, if the Sukkah became a safe place for experimenting with kindness, truth, receptivity, and spirituality? What would that magnetic force summon?


The Zohar, after discussing the Ushpizin, continues:

“One must also gladden the poor, and the portion [that would otherwise have been set aside for these Ushpizin] guests should go to the poor. For if a person sits in the shadow of faith and invites those guests and does not give their portion [to the poor], they all remain distant from him…One should not say “I will first satisfy myself with food and drink, and I shall give the leftovers to the poor.” Rather, the first of everything must be for one’s guests. If one gladdens his guests and satisfies them, God rejoices over him. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the others shower him… (Emor 103a)

But when we live in suburban areas of the world, removed from direct contact with those in the most desperate need, what is the physical fulfillment of this command? We traditionally invite figures from our past, but who do we really invite into our Sukkot, usually built in our backyards where their exposure to the wider world is minimized by fences? Where our houses serve as buffers between our Sukkot and the world?!

Offering money to Mazon is an obvious fulfillment, but not a physical invitation to real people the outside world to be guests in our temporary homes, our Sukkot. The word ”symbolic” can be harmful to the intent of the mitzvah if it reduces its impact on our lives and the lives of others. Mazon and Ushpizin are both symbolic Sukkot guest-bringings, powerful and worthy of effort. But how can we “make it real”?


I share two suggested responses:

Rabbi Jack Moline has pointed out that it is the vision of the prophet Zechariah that the many nations of the world will someday join with us in the celebration of Sukkot. He writes:

“Let us begin that process by inviting into our Sukkah guests from other traditions. A friend or acquaintance may be invited to share a meal in the Sukkah and welcomed with these words. May they be more than symbolic!”

Rabbi Moline has suggested inviting on successive nights guests that are Roman Catholic, Protestant, Moslem, Hindu, Buddhist, secular, and Jewish, with the following words:

“Enter and share my meal. May the day soon come when we all live together in a world free from suffering and pain, a world in which justice and compassion reign, a world in which all people realize that what we share in common is so much greater than what divides us.”

This suggestion becomes even more powerful when joined with the following ancient Talmudic text.

In connection with the concept that in the Messianic Age, God will invite all peoples to account for their deeds. Rome (Edom) and Persia, and every other non-Jewish nation will present their practices in the best light, only to be rejected by God, who will point out that their motivations were, in truth, born of self-interest rather than helping others (especially the Jewish People). Each people, crushed in spirit, will be denied reward for their past deeds by God. But the nations will then contend that God is rewarding the Jewish People who haven’t properly observed it. The text continues:

The Holy Blessed One will reply, ‘I can give evidence that they observed the Torah.’ ‘O Lord of the Universe,’ they will argue, ‘can a father give evidence in favor of his son? For it is written, Israel is My son, My firstborn (Ex. 4:22).’ … Then the Holy Blessed One will say, ‘Some of yourselves shall testify that Israel observed the entire Torah. Let Nimrod come and testify that Abraham did not [consent to] worship idols; let Laban come and testify that Jacob could not be suspected of theft; let Potiphar’s wife testify that Joseph was above suspicion of immorality; let Nebuchadnezzar come and testify that Hanania, Mishael and Azariah did not bow down to an image; let Darius come and testify that Daniel never neglected the [statutory] prayers; let Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite, and Eliphaz the Temanite that Israel has observed the whole Torah; as it is said,” Let them bring their own witnesses, that they [Israel] may be justified. (Is. 43:9)’ (From TB Avodah Zara 2a-3b)”

Each of the non-Jewish characters from within Jewish history will testify before God that the Jewish People has stood strong in the face of temptation. Each “villain”, Nimrod, Laban, Potiphar’s wife, Nebuchadnezzar, Darius, Bildad the Shuhite, Zophar the Naamathite, and Eliphaz the Temanite, will present evidence in defense of the Jewish People before God. Interestingly, these characters do so at the expense of their own peoples, who will then beg for another chance. The text continues:

“The nations will then plead. ‘Offer us the Torah anew and we shall obey it.’ But the Holy Blessed One will say to them, ‘Foolish ones, one who took trouble to prepare on the eve of the Shabbat can eat on the Shabbat, but he who has not troubled on the eve of the Shabbat, what shall he eat on the Shabbat? Nevertheless, I have an easy command which is called Sukkah — go and carry it out.’ Straightaway will every one of them go and make a Sukkah on the top of his roof; but the Holy Blessed One will cause the sun to blaze forth over them as if it were the Summer Solstice and every one of them will trample down his booth and go away, as it is said, ‘Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us (Ps. 2:3).’ (From TB Avodah Zara 2a-3b)”

How can this be? How can the nations accept upon themselves a mitzvah, only to have God “rig” the game? The text asks:

“But didn’t you just say ‘The Holy Blessed One does not deal imperiously with his creatures?’ — True! but with the Jews, too, it occasionally happens that the summer solstice extends till Sukkot and they are vexed by the heat.’ But doesn’t Raba hold that ‘one who is vexed thereby is freed from dwelling in the Sukkah? (Suk. 26a)’ — Granted, they would be freed, but would Jews contemptuously trample it down? (From Avodah Zara 2a-3b)

This text holds the grudge against all nations who have oppressed us. In fact, the sages contemporary to the Gemara were still under those conditions. It is understandable to have them speak contemptuously of other nations. But what of our world, in which we experience a world in desperate need of healthy interaction between peoples? We could learn something valuable from the introduction to the Gemara’s story.

“[In the Messianic Age] all the nations will crowd together in confusion (be’irbuvia) … The Holy Blessed One will then say to them: ‘Come not before Me in confusion, but let each nation come in with its sages.’ (From Avodah Zara 2a-3b)

God sees the confusion, the “irbuvia”, and invites each nation to enter individually. Perhaps, though the Gemara certainly wouldn’t have suggested this, we can invite some figures from our past who have served us well in defense of our deeds before God. Perhaps those figures who once were enemies but have become transformed in the rabbinic imagination to reluctant defenders of the Jews can join us in a Sukkah of kindness, truth, receptivity, and spirituality. Perhaps we can find room in Sukkot this year even for Nimrod, Laban, Potiphar’s wife, Nebuchadnezzar, Darius, Bildad the Shuhite, Zophar the Naamathite, and Eliphaz the Temanite.

Wouldn’t it change the world to have a shared Sukkah of Peace over their heads and our own? Wouldn’t sharing sacred meals change the world? Perhaps we can make it happen. We can. We can make it happen.


Douglas Aronin has pointed out that when the Torah uses the word “ezrach” (“citizen”) it does so in the context of explaining why the “ger” (“stranger”) is to be treated the same as the ezrach, and that the only exception to this pattern is the mitzvah of Sukkah. “You shall live in booths (Sukkot) seven days, all citizens (kol haezrach) in Israel shall live in booths. (Lev. 23:42)” Aronin asks the obvious question: what makes the mitzvah of living in the Sukkah different? Why is it that for this mitzvah, and only for this mitzvah, the Torah goes out of its way to single out the ezrach, while not even mentioning the ger?

It would be possible to propose that the ger simply doesn’t figure into the space of the Sukkah. After all, our text suggested that, under the duress of some heat, each non-Jew “every one of them will trample down his booth and go away.”

We shouldn’t want that interpretation. I don’t want my Sukkah to be a place where non-Jews want to walk away. I want its fragile frame and strangeness and kindness to infect us all. Instead of the street which allows us to brush right past people, the Sukkah would bring us all together with gentleness and power.


May all our guests, real and invoked, past, present, and future find that the temporary home of the Sukkah is a model for real community. It is a Jewish symbol that could help the world.

May it be so. May we pray and play, dance and sing just a little more — with all who seek peace. And then the world will be a little closer to Paradise, a place where we can truly feel something.