Although there are lots of details, the simple idea behind the Sukkah, the funny little huts we build shortly after Yom Kippur and occupy for a week, is to direct and focus the שפע הקודש, Shefa HaKodesh, the holy, divine flow of energy which animates, inspires and fills us each with love.
After all the work constructing the Sukkah, putting up walls, flimsy as they may be, we learn that the only real significant part is the סכך, schach, that insubstantial roofing material of branches and sticks. The scriptural source for this information is חַג הַסֻּכֹּת תַּעֲשֶׂה לְךָ שִׁבְעַת יָמִים בְּאָסְפְּךָ מִגָּרְנְךָ וּמִיִּקְבֶךָ, Chag HaSukkot Ta’ase L’Cha Shivat Yamim, B’Asp’cha MiGorncha U’MiYikbcha, Make for yourselves the Chag of Sukkot for seven days with what you gather from your granaries and your vineyards (Devarim 16:13). This has been interpreted to mean with, more or less, waste products from our fields, i.e. detached (already harvested but discarded as not the actual food) branches and sticks. The other requirement is that we’re forbidden to use anything that is מקבל טומאה, M’Kabel Tuma, that has the potential to become (ritually) impure.
The lesson from this is that we construct the lens that focuses the divine flow to ourselves and our world using, literally, the secondary output of our labor, but only if they remain pure of selfish or otherwise destructive motives. Not only must our intentions be good, but we’re also mandated to make sure we don’t cause “collateral damage”, be it intended or unintended.
As with other Jewish Holy Days, we don’t don Tefillin, the black leather boxes with scriptural passages hand-written on parchment which we put on our foreheads and biceps for our morning prayers. In many ways, the Tefillin serve the same purpose as the Sukkah, to focus and direct the Divine Flow. The Tefillin, however, are aimed at the individual who is wearing them and directs the flow in a personalized configuration based on the Sefirot and other principles. Most people are incapable of making their own Tefillin and rely on a סופר, a Sofer, a highly-trained scribe. Although there’s no requirement to construct our own Sukkah, and most of us don’t manufacture it from scratch, many do erect their own. Ironically, this object in which we often at least participate individually in making, is not individualized and customized in effect–everyone who enters any Sukkah immediately benefits from the Shefa that flows into it.
On Sukkot, we temporarily put aside Tefillin, made by someone else for our exclusive use (yes, they’re kosher for others as well, but are generally only worn by the owner) and exchange them for the Sukkah, which we (often) personally make but are for general use.
May we all bask in the generous Shefa, drawn into the world by the myriad Sukkot we build, each with a “lens” that’s the product of our purest thoughts and efforts.