Should dwelling in a Succah booth be a comfortable experience or a rough and tumble “camping out” experience?
A little bit of both.
It certainly needs to be comfortable and homey enough that we feel good about being there. This is because Jewish law requires that a person not be uncomfortable due to being in the Succah. However, the Succah is called a “temporary dwelling” in classic Jewish sources, and therefore cannot be a permanent structure, such as one in which we would live all year around. That’s why we put up “schach” – e.g. palm fronds or bamboo canes or tree branches – as a roof, instead of shingles or other permanent roofing materials.
And what is the message for us in living for a week in a comfortable place without a proper roof?
Leaving our permanent houses with solid walls and roofs to live in a relatively flimsy booth with a roof of branches is a dramatic statement. It proclaims that the material world is not all that life is about. Living in the Succah helps us realize that the entire physical world is only temporary, and the only permanent possessions we have are the soul and its spiritual accomplishments.
The Succah is a reminder of how our ancestors dwelt in the Sinai desert after the Exodus from Egypt and before arriving in the Land of Israel 40 years later.
It was certainly within God’s power to build five-star hotels and fancy spas for the Jewish people in the Sinai desert. So why did He choose to put them in thatched huts? Because He wanted them (and us) to understand that there is no permanence to the physical world. Focusing all of one’s aspirations and hopes on only material attainments – a house, a car, another house, another car – is being “unfocused”. However, by living in the Succah we are bringing this message of what is temporary and what is permanent “home” to ourselves, with an awareness that will impact our lives for the better.