June 13, 2024
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June 13, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

‘Hay!’ It’s a Sukkah!

This year, I built the most passul sukkah I’ve ever built in my life. And I built it in June.

Every year, my kids’ school has some kind of academic fair, which is when you do a craft project at home with the help of your kid. Or not. And then he brings it into school in a flimsy box or the bottom of his knapsack, and then all the parents come in and look at their own kid’s project and that’s it.

So toward the end of the last school year, my wife and I had to make a sukkah with our third-grader. You’d think June would be a weird time for this, but it was actually supposed to be built in time for their siyum on Mishnayos Sukkah.

The idea was that each kid in the class had to bring in a passul sukkah. For those who don’t know, almost half of Mishnayos Sukkah talks about the different ways you can screw up building a sukkah. And I don’t just mean because most Jews don’t know how to build anything, even indoors, that can survive a slight wind.

What you have to remember is that in those days, you didn’t just go to The Sukkah Outlet and get a pile of pre-made pieces with instructions. You had to look around your backyard on Motzoei Yom Kippur, in the dark, and try to figure out what you were going to make your sukkah out of this year, because you had to use last year’s walls as firewood.

“Um … What about some fence posts, a bike with a broken chain, a dead lawn mower, and a humane animal trap?”

“I don’t know; let’s check the Mishna.”

And as a result, the Mishna includes cases that to the untrained eye, look like people were going out of their way to build questionable sukkahs just to keep the Tanaim on their toes.

So my initial thought for this project was that I want to build the sukkah from the first Mishna—the one that’s less than 10 tefachim high.

But it turns out that everyone was assigned a specific sukkah. Ours was the haystack, from the Mishna that talks about how, if you hollow out a haystack, it’s a passul sukkah.

So my first thought was: How do we hollow out a haystack? And then transport it to school? The Mishna doesn’t seem to talk about the patience and skill it takes to actually hollow out a haystack and not have it collapse on you or blow away in a light breeze. One breeze on the way to school and we’re done. And then I thought: Who says our sukkah has to actually be hollow? The rabbi’s not going in there.

And to be honest, we could have gotten harder Mishnayos. I had no idea how to illustrate a sukkah gezulah, for example.

Actually, I do—just write another kid’s name on it.

So we took a paper bowl and cut a little door in it, and then we dipped the bowl in glue and then in clipped grass. My son was very concerned about this, because in his mind, clipped grass was not hay. So I tried to convince him that hay is actually dried-out grass. I don’t think there are any farmers out there who, when you ask them, “What do you grow?” say, “Hay.”

“Hey. So what do you grow?”

But here’s something I did not know: Cut grass stuck to a bowl takes forever to dry out. I have no idea how long that takes. Definitely longer than the advance notice we had on this project.

So my wife, at the last minute, found hay at a local women’s clothing store that is currently doing construction. I’m not sure what they need with hay, but they have several bales lined up. Probably to make cement, if I know my Chumash. So she walked in and asked, “Can I have a little bit of hay?” and they said, “Why?” and she said, “We’re building a passul sukkah!” And they said, “In June?” So they gave her a little official store baggie to carry it home in, like this was our fancy hay.

Then we cut the fancy hay into tiny pieces and glued it on over the grass, which was still green, and to be honest, it did not quite look like a sukkah. It looked more like a yarmulke that a scarecrow would wear.

As it turns out, our sukkah was smaller than almost any other sukkah in the class—even smaller than the one that was less than 10 tefachim. And actually, all the sukkahs were less than 10 tefachim, except for the one that was supposed to be 20 amos tall, which was actually about 10 tefachim.

We still have our sukkah. We’ve been keeping it on the parsha table in our dining room since Shavuot, and it’s been shedding like crazy. I sweep a little bit of hay off the floor almost every day, which is why I have no real desire to put it away in the arts and crafts box. It’s also covered in challah crumbs.

We’ve mostly been keeping the sukkah around as a conversation piece, because none of our guests know what it is. Most people think it’s Har Sinai. With a door in the side, for some reason.

But then, a couple of months ago, we had this family from Brooklyn at our house for Shabbat, and the father took one look and said, “You have a sukkah too?” He knew what it was.

And I said, “Yeah, we had to make a passul sukkah from the Mishna.”

And he said, “So did we! We had to make the haystack. What’s this?”

So I asked, “How did you make your haystack?”

And he said, “Well, we live in Brooklyn, so we had to order the hay online.”

The annoying thing is that the schools never do this at a time of year when it’s easy to get hay. We could be sneaking it off the hay rides in our pants when we go apple picking.

“How much for the hay?”

“The hay isn’t for sale.”

“How much for that scarecrow?”

“I don’t think you people understand what apple picking is.”

“What do you mean ‘you people’?”

“There was a guy here from Brooklyn last week.”


Mordechai Schmutter is a freelance writer and a humor columnist for Hamodia and other magazines. He has also published seven books and does stand-up comedy. You can contact him at [email protected].

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