Temporary Housing

“The Sages taught: All seven days of Sukkot, a person renders his sukka his permanent residence and his house his temporary residence.”

BT Sukka 28b


Robert Frost popularized a certain view of home in North of Boston: “Home is where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” This is, on some level, a very negative view of home, a place where people accept you for the way you are only because there seems to be no other choice. The problem is, of course, there are always choices. We hope that home offers more than a last-ditch refuge when there are few other options.


We find a different view of home in an unexpected place: the tractate of Talmud that is currently being studied in the daily Talmud cycle that deals with the building of a sukka, a temporary home. To relive history and mimic the lives of the ancient Israelites, Jews are commanded to build huts in the fall season – to coincide with the annual harvest - and to dwell in them. This led to the formulation of the legal clause above; one should make his sukka permanent for that week and his house temporary. In order to facilitate this, we have to understand what makes a house feel temporary and what makes it feel permanent.


Leviticus states, “In sukkot you shall reside…” (23:42). The Talmudic sages interpreted this to mean that you should reside in the sukka the way that you reside in your own home. The text elaborates: “If one has beautiful vessels, he takes them up to his sukka. If one has beautiful bedding, he takes it up to his sukka. One eats, drinks and relaxes in the sukka.” One should also study Torah in the sukka unless the matter requires an unusual degree of concentration that cannot be facilitated in the sukka.


If you want to make a space feel permanent, you have to bring to it your favorite things, those of both beauty and comfort since home should be a space that incorporates both together. Additionally, home should be a place where one both fulfills both basic needs – like eating and drinking – and higher needs, like the need for serenity and peace encapsulated by the fact that we should relax in the sukka.


While it is hard to imagine that home is simply a place that we stage by moving objects, think of a hotel room when you first enter it or the day when you rent an apartment or purchase a house. Alternatively, you can think of what a space looks like when you exit it. The walls are blank and sterile. Nothing contains your signature items. The “you” of the place has been replaced by the anonymity of it. Once you place your favorite things there, it has your stamp of uniqueness.


But there is something else that determines the quality of a home in addition to your personal effects and activities. Home is a place where your table is and your guests are. On Sukkot, we go out of our way to entertain friends and strangers precisely to give the message that we make a house permanent when we bring people together under its roof, even if the roof is not extremely stable. Until the moment you have your first guests, your house is not really a home.


Tennessee Williams regarded home the same way: “I don’t mean what other people mean when they speak of a home, because I don’t regard a home as a…well, as a place, a building…a house…of wood, bricks, stone. I think of a home as being a thing that two people have between them in which each can…well, nest.” A sukka, with its twig and leaf roof, is a great nest.


Home is not a last resort, although it may be at times. For us, it is closer to a luxury resort: a place of beauty, comfort, solace, good food, and most of all, good company.


Shabbat Shalom