According to Jewish law, there are a few main requirements for the covering of the sukkah (called schach):

  1. the material must have grown from the ground;
  2. it must be presently detached from the ground; and
  3. it should not be susceptible to ritual impurity (which in layman’s terms means that it should be unprocessed, not fashioned into a tool or something useful).1

Cheap Remnants

The Talmud2 derives these requirements from the verse “You shall prepare for you the festival of Sukkot for seven days as you gather from your threshing floor and from your winepress.”3 This, the rabbis explain, implies that the holiday is to be celebrated with materials that are typically left on a threshing floor or in a winepress, such as straw, stalks, and reeds.

The defining element of the sukkah is the schach covering, so this verse is essentially saying that the schach should be made of natural, unprocessed materials that grow from the ground and are not susceptible to ritual impurity.

But what is the deeper significance of this mitzvah?

Real Love Is in Simplicity

Throughout the month of Elul and the High Holidays, we work constantly on improving ourselves and returning to G‑d. The holiday of Sukkot celebrates the completion of this work and the assurance of a year full of closeness to the Divine. This is one of the reasons why we refer to the holiday of Sukkot as “the time of our rejoicing.”

The Chassidic masters explain that in addition to representing the miraculous Clouds of Glory that surrounded the Jews in the desert for forty years, the covering of the sukkah symbolizes the culmination of our refinement process during the month of Elul and the High Holidays.

The climax of the High Holiday services was the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) entering the Holy of Holies and offering ketoret (incense), which would form a thick cloud, representing G‑d’s glory and the culmination of our personal refinement. Rabbi Dovber of Lubavitch teaches that the correlation between clouds and the process of refinement can be found in the verse “And a mist ascended from the earth and watered the entire surface of the ground.”4 Mist ascending from the ground represents the uplifting and refining of our earthly actions, until they rise up to heaven and form “clouds,” from which “rain” (blessings) pours down upon us.5

Interestingly, the Talmud correlates this same verse with the schach covering of the sukkah (since the schach represents the clouds), going so far as to derive some of the laws pertaining to the schach from this verse.6 The mystics explain that while the Yom Kippur services represent the culmination of our refining ourselves, the sukkah, and specifically the schach covering, corresponds to the Clouds of Glory and the cloud of the ketoret, symbolizing how G‑d reciprocates and showers us with his blessings and love.7

So when G‑d instructs us to build a sukkah, He tells us that the covering should not be made of expensive materials, like gold and silver, nor even any edible items. Rather, it should be made from reeds and other “refuse.” For G‑d is saying, “Even if you seem to have no spiritual advantage or superiority, no gold or silver, no love or awe of Me, just simple, leftover reeds, I still love you and bless you.”8

Primordial Purity

Rabbi Dovber explains elsewhere that the schach covering of the sukkah represents an all-encompassing revelation of G‑dliness that is completely pure, reminiscent of the revelation that was present in the world before the sin of Adam and Eve, as well as the revelation that will be present in the Messianic era. The schach therefore needs to be made from material that grows from the ground and isn’t susceptible to impurity, representing the Earth in its pure, pre-sin state.9

May the day come soon when, in the words of the prophet Zechariah,10 all the nations of the world will go up to the Holy Temple to celebrate the holiday of Sukkot!