Apparently, at the top of the financial ladder, some people are spending upwards of $10,000 to build a sukkah with opulent flower arrangements, lush centerpieces, to build a sukkah with opulent flower arrangements, lush centerpieces, and ornate chandeliers. It all seems like a bit much. The editor of this paper commented:
But is Sukkot really about humility? Austerity?
To me, this sounds like a recasting of the holiday with the Christian value of redemptive suffering.
The Torah’s descriptions of Sukkot are not about physical denial. Deuteronomy 16:15 describes the holiday: “For seven days you shall rejoice for the Lord your God in the place of God’s choosing. For the Lord your God will bless you and all your grain and all your undertakings; you shall have nothing but joy.” Leviticus 23:39-43 similarly describes rejoicing for God during the grain harvest, featuring booths and the four species in celebration.
More than any other holiday, Rabbinic literature casts Sukkot in terms of unbridled joy. Sukkot is “Zman Simhateinu” – “the time of our rejoicing.” The Talmud describes the festivities in the Jerusalem temple during Sukkot: There was singing and dancing, and a water drawing ceremony with thousands of spectators. The Talmud goes so far as to say that one who never experienced these festivities “never experienced Joy in his life.”
What is Sukkot really about? Joy. It’s a harvest festival. It’s about thanking God and celebrating the material blessings He has provided, not denying ourselves.
Opulent decorations? The Talmud doesn’t advocate an austere sukkah. See Tractate Sukkah 28b: “The Sages taught: All seven days [of Sukkot], a person renders his sukkah his permanent residence and his house his temporary residence. How so? If he has beautiful vessels, he takes them in to the sukkah. If he has beautiful bedding, he takes it to the sukkah. He eats and drinks and relaxes in the sukkah.”
If there is something to lament about Sukkot, it’s that not enough people celebrate it. Sukkot is a meaningful, fun, and all-encompassing holiday. Why should it have a less important place than Hanukkah or Passover?
Sure, a $10,000 Sukkah is excessive. But it’s hard to argue that a display of bounty goes against the spirit of the holiday.
I say, bring on the cashmere, if that’s how you build your sukkah. Or gather the cuttings of your threshing floor, as described in Deuteronomy. Or buy one at Home Depot. Or go to a friend’s Sukkah. Whatever. But don’t deny yourself on Sukkot. Celebrate.
Avi Bass is a marketer, writer, and Sukkah aficionado. Originally from Pittsburgh, he currently lives in Jerusalem with his wife and daughter.