The Sukkah of Leviathan

In the Pesikta, Rabbi Levi explains that whoever fulfils the mitzvah of sukkah in this world will dwell in the sukkah of Leviathan in time to come - what does that mean? And how does a sukkah symbolize peace?

Rabbi Dr. Raymond Apple

Judaism  Raymond Apple
Raymond Apple

Some sukkot are so tiny that a person can hardly squeeze in. Others are so huge that they could accommodate an army.

The biggest of all is the sukkah of Leviathan, a huge sea creature whose hide will cover the tent in which the righteous will be seated for the ultimate messianic banquet.

In the Pesikta, Rabbi Levi explains that whoever fulfils the mitzvah of sukkah in this world will dwell in the sukkah of Leviathan in time to come.

Not that Leviathan the monster is to be praised and admired despite its massive size. Isaiah says (27:1) that God will use His sword against "Leviathan the straight serpent and Leviathan the crooked serpent, and He will kill the dragon that is in the sea". The two Leviathans are respectively male and female, according to the Talmud (Bava Batra 74b).

Samson Raphael Hirsch points out that the name Leviathan (found in Psalm 104:25-26) comes from the same Hebrew root as "melaveh" and "halvayah" ("accompanying"). "Leviathan" therefore has the general connotation of society.

God approves and encourages the formation of groups for the study of Torah and the service of one’s fellow man.

But not every group is formed for good and constructive purposes. Think of the Tower of Babel and you get the point. God feels impelled to attack an animal or human society which clubs together to wreak fear, fright and terror.

What has the Leviathan to do with Sukkot? At the time of the final resurrection there will be a banquet at which the flesh of the Leviathan will be served and from the monster’s hide God will construct a massive tent.

Maimonides gives the banquet of Leviathan a spiritual and intellectual connotation: it will be the climactic gathering of the learned tzaddikim.


The words "sukkah" and "shalom" go together.

Many of our prayers ask God to spread over us "sukkat shalom", "the sukkah of peace".

The imagery arises out of the shape of the sukkah as a protective covering. If we can sit together under the same sukkah, we will have peace.

Peace comes when we no longer hide from each other behind a wall or shout at one another across a divide. Peace comes when we sit side by side and recognise our common humanity.

Lord Jakobovits offers another perspective: "The sukkah serves as a token of peace perhaps because it is a symbol of moderation and compromise.

"It must be a temporary abode ('dirat ar’ay') and yet be used like a permanent home ('k’eyn taduru'); its covering must be thick enough to provide more shade than sunshine inside and it should yet be loose enough to allow the stars to be seen through it; the covering material must be of plants ‘grown from the earth’ and yet be detached from the ground.

"The sukkah must be at least 10 handbreadths high and yet no more than 20 cubits (approximately 3 feet and 37 feet respectively); it must accommodate a person and yet need hold only his head and the greater part of his body; it must be specially built for the festival (at least in part) and may yet be left standing from year to year.

"Moderation and compromise are the ingredients of peace" ("Journal of a Rabbi", 1966, page 412).

The theme of unity figures not only in relation to the sukkah but in the laws and customs of the "arba’ah minim".

Each of the four plants is different and distinctive, yet all are needed or else the mitzvah cannot be fulfilled.

The lesson is that unless the human community, likewise composed of many different types and groups, is bound together in co-existence and cooperation, the world and its inhabitants cannot hope to survive.

Unity also comes into the sacrificial ritual for Sukkot.

When the Temple was standing, seventy bullocks were offered, symbolic of what was then thought to be the seventy nations of the world. The festival taught the importance of praying for mankind as a whole with all its nations and groups.