Procure for yourselves: Through fulfilling the commandment of holding the four plant-parts, we “take for ourselves”—i.e., internalize—the transcendent consciousness of the sukah. It is therefore customary that when we hold the four plant-parts together we bring them to our heart, so that this energy can be drawn into our hearts, from whence it can spread throughout our entire person.1

42 You must live in huts (sukot): The sukah is unique among the Torah’s commandments in that it is the only one that we physically enter into; the sukah surrounds us on all sides. This property of the sukah is a physical manifestation of the Divine energy that the sukah embodies: God’s transcendence. As mentioned above,2 the sukah derives spiritually from the cloud of incense produced by the high priest on Yom Kippur. Whereas the animal sacrifices focus primarily on refining our human/animal soul, the incense expresses the inner consciousness of our Divine soul.3 Our Divine soul operates on a higher plane than that of our normal, human/animal consciousness; when this soul is manifest, we transcend the limits imposed on our lives by the rationality and emotional predilections of our human/animal soul. Thus, our task on Sukot is first to focus on transcendent Divinity by building the sukah and then to internalize transcendent Divine consciousness by dwelling in the sukah and, as was explained above, by fulfilling the commandment of the four plant-parts.

“Transcendent” is a relative term: as we progressively understand and internalize more of God’s reality, levels of consciousness that we formerly considered “transcendent,” i.e., beyond our grasp, become “immanent,” i.e., part of how we think and live. Commensurately, levels of Divine awareness that we formerly could not even imagine come into view and become the new “transcendent.”

The transcendent consciousness we take from the sukah enables us to transcend differences between us and other people as well as between normally conflicting aspects of our own psyches. The sukah therefore promotes peace. The very fact that the sukah surrounds all who are in it equally reminds us that despite our differences, we can all participate in the same commandment. To enter the sukah, then, is to savor a foretaste of the ultimate peace that will characterize the messianic era.4

You must live in huts (sukot): The requirement to “live” in sukot obligates us to “move into” it by placing our furniture and accessories in it and performing as many of our day-to-day activities in it as possible.5 Thus, unlike other commandments, which involve only a particular limb of the body, the sukah involves the whole person. During Sukot, even mundane, weekday eating becomes a the fulfillment of a commandment when performed in the sukah.

Furthermore, a home is a basic human need, secondary only to food and clothing.6 Even besides fulfilling the need for shelter, a home is a tangible expression of our mastery over the physical world; as such, it is a vital component of the fulfillment of our Divine mission—to make this world into God’s home. Moreover, inasmuch as each of us is required to reveal Divinity in the world in a unique manner, as an expression of our unique Divine souls, a private home is an expression of the personal component of our Divine mission and an essential vehicle for our self-expression. Inasmuch as fulfilling this Divine imperative lies at the bedrock of our psychological makeup, the lack of a place to call home leaves us disoriented and unfocused. The sense of completeness we draw from our home is felt not only when we are in it, but even when we are outside it.

So when, during Sukot, the sukah becomes our home, our domiciliary self-completeness is invested with the holiness of the commandment of living in the sukah. This experience of living inside a Divine commandment and drawing our sense of self-completeness from it enables us to live the rest of the year “surrounded by God’s commandments,” i.e., sanctifying our entire lives, including their most mundane aspects.7

Yet, paradoxically, while the sukah is given an element of permanence, it must be a temporary hut: its roof must be makeshift, and it cannot be taller than 20 cubits (9.6 m or 31.5 ft).8 This paradox conveys an important message: The experience of living in a temporary hut for seven days reminds us that life itself is ephemeral. The seven days of Sukot correspond to the basic human lifespan, described in the Psalms9 as consisting of 70 years.10 By recognizing life’s inherent transience, we protect ourselves from losing our perspective in the illusion of permanence. We can then imbue the world with true permanence and meaning by transforming it into God’s dwelling.11

Chapter 24

11 His mother’s nickname was Shelomit bat Dibri: Although the Torah only uses this woman’s nickname, it still identifies her, thereby apparently shaming her in public when such embarrassment could have been avoided. Needless to say, this seems inconsistent with the lesson the Torah teaches us elsewhere in this regard.12

We must therefore conclude that the Torah is actually praising her by mentioning her name in connection with this incident. The praise consists of the fact that she was singled out by Divine providence to be one through whom the exemplary chastity of the Israelite women was demonstrated.

This, in fact, is the way that transgressions are transformed into merits in general: by serving as catalysts for proper behavior. By serving as a negative example, Shelomit inspired future generations to live up to the example set by our forebears in Egypt.13

12 They placed him in the guardhouse: The Torah does not forbid incarceration; the court is allowed to imprison criminals or suspected criminals when they find it necessary.14 But it never prescribes incarceration as a punishment. Here, too, the curser was not imprisoned as a punishment but simply to detain him while it was determined what should be done.15

As we have pointed out, the Torah’s punishments are not merely punitive; they are intended to rectify the spiritual or material damage that was wrought, enabling the criminal to right the wrong he committed. The Torah therefore considers locking someone up counterproductive, for doing so denies him the opportunity to act.16 Every person exists in this world for a purpose; every moment has its potential that must be fulfilled. These truths apply even to someone who has committed crimes.

If a person has transgressed so terribly that there is no longer hope for him and he can no longer contribute in any way to society, the Torah instructs us to put him to death. Any person who is not deemed liable to death by the Torah, however, is not considered to be beyond salvation.17

Although we may not believe in jails as a worthwhile punishment, we are enjoined to follow the law of the land.18 Based upon the above insight, however, recent moves towards rehabilitative as opposed to purely punitive incarceration are worthy and welcome. Prisoners should be provided with opportunities for education and religious instruction, and furlough and parole programs should be available for those who have proven themselves ready to turn over a new leaf.19

16 One who pronounces the Name of God must be put to death: The word for “pronounce” (נוקב) literally means “to puncture.” Failure to observe any given commandment drills a hole, so to speak, in God’s Name, draining it of its Divine energy. Instead of sustaining and spiritually invigorating all the spiritual and physical worlds, this Divine energy is wasted and may even bolster negativity. Such an act warrants a death penalty, for it, too, has drained the life-blood of existence.20