So many of our streets are concrete jungles, so many houses are brick building-blocks, so many flats are anonymous pigeon-holes.
Having a sukkah makes sure that once in a while we encounter a bit of fresh air and greenery. Even if it’s only for eight days we can get a taste of nature.
Nonetheless, in the cramped conditions of urban living we don’t all have our own sukkah, so we try to make do by being invited to someone else’s or spend time in the synagogue sukkah.
Up until recent times city dwelling was rather rare. The Bible makes a special point of Cain building a city (Gen. 4:17) and it appears that the only Biblical city with real status was Jerusalem, though in modern terms ancient Jerusalem was not much more than a village.
For centuries – in Europe and elsewhere – most people lived outside the cities: up till about 200 years ago no more than one person in 50 lived in a city.
So it’s only quite recently that the sukkah was desperately needed as a fleeting contact with nature, though its religious status was always axiomatic.
But a principle was established in the Bible that even if one did live in a city it had to be surrounded by green areas: we learn this from Rashi’s interpretation of the laws governing the cities of refuge, and from a Talmudic teaching that cities must have gardens.
We see from these provisions that built-up areas must have adequate open space, not just because it’s good for people’s spirits (Saul Bellow wrote, “There haven’t been civilisations without cities, but what about cities without civilisations?”) but because it leaves a healthy environment for the generation of the future.