In the letter we share in preparation for Succos, the Rebbe explains why it is the custom in Chabad not to decorate the Succah nor sleep in it. The letter, written originally in English, is from the archives of the Rebbe’s trusted secretary Rabbi Nissan Mindel.
By the Grace of G-d
7 Cheshvan, 5715
New York, N.Y.
Rabbi… conveyed to me your question as to why it is not the custom of Chabad Chassidim to decorate the Succah as well as to sleep in the Succah.
This question calls for a lengthier explanation than this letter would permit. However, I trust the following points may suffice:
I Re the decorations
Generally, a mitzvah must be observed on its Divine authority with kabolas ol and not on rational grounds, i.e. for any reason or explanation which we may find in it. An exception, to some extent, is the case where the significance of the mitzvah is indicated in the Torah, and our Sages have connected its fulfillment with it. At any rate, only a qualified person can interpret it more fully.
We have a rule that a mitzvah should be performed to the best of one’s ability and as the Rambam explains (at the end of Hilchot Issurei haMizbe’ach). This applies especially to the object of the mitzvah itself, e.g. a tallis should be the best one can afford, an offering should be the most generous, etc.
Unlike the sechach and walls of the Succah, the decorations are not an essential part of the Succah, but an external adornment which adds to the enjoyment of the person sitting in the Succah; they are, as the name clearly indicates, supplementary objects which decorate and beautify the external appearance of the Succah.
The attitude of Chabad Chassidim in this connection, as taught by generations of Chabad leaders and teachers, is that the Succah is to imbue us with certain essential lessons, which are explained in Chassidic literature and Talmudic literature in general. It is expected of Chabad Chassidim that they should be impressed by the essential character of the Succah without recourse to “artificial” make-up; that the frail covering of the Succah and its bare walls, not adorned by external ornaments, rugs or hangings, should more forcibly and directly impress upon the Jew the lessons it is meant to convey.
II Re Sleeping in the Succah
In order to safeguard and inspire a greater felling of sanctity toward the Succah, sleeping in it is not practiced by us. The basis for this is two-fold: First, we have a rule that “ha’mitzta’er patur min ha’succah” (suffering exempts one form dwelling in the Succah). Secondly, during sleep a person is not in control of himself and furthermore, the very act of undressing and dressing, etc. inevitably creates a commonplace attitude towards the place which serves as a bedroom. Such a depreciating of attitude toward the Succah (by sleeping in it as explained above), form what his attitude should properly be towards the motzvos of G-d whereby He has sanctified all Jews, would be deeply felt by the Chabad Chossid by virtue of his Chassidic teachings and upbringing and would cause him profound spiritual suffering. The combination of these two considerations, therefore, letd to the custom not to sleep in the Succah.
However, if a Jew feels absolutely certain that his sleeping in the Succah will not in the slightest affect his attitude toward the sanctity of the Succah, and is consequently free from any mental pain that might be caused thereby, he is duty-bound to sleep in it, in accordance with the fullest meaning of “teishvu k’ein taduru, to make his Succah his dwelling place to the utmost.
I hope the above will provide an adequate answer to your question, but should you desire further clarification, do not hesitate to write me.