The Mitzvah of Sitting/Dwelling in the Sukkah
The Torah (Vayikra 23) states: “You shall dwell in the huts for seven days; all the home-born in Israel must sit in the huts. In order for your generations to know that I have made the children of Israel dwell in huts when I took them out of the land of Egypt.” Our Sages in the Gemara in Masechet Sukkah (11b) teach us that these “huts” were actually the Clouds of Glory that Hashem sent to surround the Jewish nation so that the sun did not bear down on them (Hashem did not actually sit them in actual huts as we do).
Thus, when one sits in the Sukkah, one should have in mind to fulfill the Mitzvah that Hashem has commanded us to dwell in the Sukkah in commemoration of the Clouds of Glory that Hashem surrounded the Jewish nation with. The Midrash tells us regarding the verse “The cloud of Hashem was upon the throughout the day” that there actually seven clouds: Four corresponding to the four directions of the world (i.e. north, south, east, and west), one above them, one below them, and one in front of them which would level out the mountains and valleys before them, kill the snakes and scorpions on the way, and clean and arrange the path before them. We have therefore been commanded to dwell in the Sukkah for seven days.
The Reason Why Sukkot is Celebrated in Tishrei
The Tur writes that the reason we were commanded to make the Sukkah during the month of Tishrei and not during the time of year when we actually left Egypt which was during the holiday of Pesach is because the month of Nissan marks the beginning of the summer months and it is common to make shaded lounging areas during this time and it would not be noticeable that the Sukkah was actually a commandment from Hashem. Hashem therefore commanded us to make the Sukkah during the month of Tishrei which marks the beginning of the winter months which is the cold and rainy season when people usually enter their homes at this time. We, on the other hand, leave our homes and enter the Sukkah, for this shows everyone that we are doing so in order to fulfill the commandment of the King of all kings who has commanded us to do so.
When Should the Sukkah be Built?
Dedicated individuals begin performing Mitzvot early, thus, it is correct to begin working to erect the Sukkah immediately on the day following Yom Kippur. It is likewise a Mitzvah for one to perform this Mitzvah on his own as opposed to through a messenger. However, if one cannot do it himself, one should try to at least lay the Sechach (overhead covering of the Sukkah) on top of the Sukkah himself. If one cannot even do this, one can have someone else do everything on one’s behalf, but one should tell him, “You are my messenger to erect the Sukkah”. The primary aspect of the building of the Sukkah is placing the Sechach on top of the walls of the Sukkah, for this is what validates the Sukkah. There are several detailed laws regarding how the Sukkah should be made and we shall, G-d-willing, discuss them in the following Halachot.
Behavior in the Sukkah
One should try as much as possible to refrain from speaking idle chat in the Sukkah and to increase one’s speaking words of Torah and singing songs of praise to Hashem, for the sanctity of the Sukkah is very great. There is no limit to the greatness and reward for one who speaks many words of Torah and fear of Heaven in the Sukkah and behaves with great love and peace with the members of one’s household while in this holy setting.