As soon as Yom Kippur is out, we shift gears for the next holiday, the joyous festival of Sukkot. The core mitzvah of that holiday is the sukkah.

What Is a Sukkah?

The sukkah is a hut built to provide shade. That's why it must sit beneath the open sky—not under a patio deck or even the branches of a tree. The walls can be made of any material, as long as they are secure and don't flap about in the wind. The roof, however, (we call it s'chach), must be of unprocessed materials which have grown from the ground. Bamboo poles, thin wooden slats, and evergreen branches are popular choices. Just make sure to use enough s'chach so that the inside of your sukkah will have more shade than sunlight. Those living in the fast lane can buy a prefab sukkah and bamboo mats. Inquire at your local Judaica store, or click here.

What Do We Do in a Sukkah?

For seven days, make the sukkah your official homeFor (eight in the diaspora) days, make the sukkah your official home. Don't panic: As long as you eat your meals there, you're okay. But try to include anything else that you would normally do in the house—like reading a book or talking with a friend. We sit in the sukkah from sundown on Tishrei 14th through nightfall of the Tishrei 21 (22 in the diaspora, but without a blessing on the final day).

It is a mitzvah to eat all meals in the sukkah (a "meal" is defined as more than two ounces of grains — e.g. bread, cake, pasta). Some people have the custom of eating snacks in the sukkah as well. Before eating in the sukkah, the following blessing is recited:

Blessed are You, L‑rd our G‑d, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments, and commanded us to dwell in the sukkah.

[Ba-ruch A-tah Ado-nai E-lo-he-nu Me-lech ha-olam a-sher ki-de-sha-nu be-mitz-vo-tav ve-tzi-va-nu le-shev ba-sukkah.]

This blessing is made when your meal or snack includes a grain-based food.

Raining? If it's really uncomfortable, there is no duty to sit there. Come back when the weather improves.

Who Sits In a Sukkah?

This beautiful mitzvah is traditionally fulfilled by the whole family, though, as with all time-related mitzvot, the obligation to eat in the sukkah applies to men over the age of 13.

Why: The sukkah commemorates the Clouds of Glory which surrounded and protected our ancestors during the forty-year desert sojourn which followed the Egyptian Exodus. Our willingness to leave the security of our homes and spend eight days in a flimsy outdoor hut demonstrates our faith in G‑d and His benevolence.

Click here for more about the sukkah.