Today’s daf (Sukkah 13b) quotes a beraita to teach us that, ‘fig branches with figs on them, vines with grapes on them, straws with ears of grain on them, and brooms of palms with dates on them – in all these cases if the non-edible part (i.e. branch/vine/straw) is greater than the food, then it is ‘kosher’ to be used for s’chach, but if not, it is invalid.’
Significantly, the reason for this rule is due to the fact that ‘whatever is susceptible to tum’ah (i.e. spiritual impurity) may not be used for s’chach’ (see Mishna Sukkah 1:4), and though the non-edible branches, vines and straw are not susceptible to tum’ah, fruit and grain is. What this means is that though it is possible for some fruit or grain to be attached to the branches, vines or straw used for s’chach, these do not ‘count’ and must be minimal – notwithstanding the attraction and beauty of such fruit.
Contrasting this, reference was previously made (see Sukkah 10a) to the fact that traditional decorations used in a Sukkah included ‘nuts, almonds, peaches, pomegranates, clusters of grapes or wreaths of grain’.
Reflecting on this difference, we see that while these very same fruits are invalid if used as s’chach above the sukkah, they are considered to be exquisite adornments if used as decorations within the sukkah, and it is from here that I believe we can learn a simple lesson about priorities which is that while our public image should most certainly be dignified, our emphasis on beauty should begin from within.
Unfortunately, however, this is quite the opposite of much of our culture, where the outside image that we see of so many is colourful and stunning, while the inner self that they see of themselves can often be little more than a version of branches and straw.
As we know, the sukkah represents our faith in God. Yet I also think that it can also represent our faith in ourselves. Consequently, what we learn from today’s thought is that true faith in ourselves is achieved when we have more self-belief in our inner self than in our outer image.