B"H (May G-d be Blest) Likrat Sukkot(In honor of Sukkot)
What is Sukkot?
And what do you do on those days?
...On the fifteenth day of this seventh month is the Festival of Sukkot, seven days for the L-RD. -Leviticus 23:34
The Festival of Sukkot begins on Tishri 15, the fifth day after Yom Kippur. It is quite a drastic transition, from one of the most solemn holidays in our year to one of the most joyous. Sukkot is so unreservedly joyful that it is commonly referred to in Jewish prayer and literature as Z'man Simchateinu, the Season of our Rejoicing.
Sukkot is the last of the Shloshet HaRegalim (three pilgrimage festivals). Like Pesach (Passover) and Shavu'ot, Sukkot has a dual significance: historical and agricultural. Historically, Sukkot commemorates the forty-year period during which the children of Israel were wandering in the desert, living in temporary shelters. Agriculturally, Sukkot is a harvest festival and is sometimes referred to as Chag Ha-Asif, the Festival of Ingathering.
The word "Sukkot" refers to the temporary dwellings that we are commanded to live in during this holiday in memory of the period of wandering. The Hebrew pronunciation of Sukkot is "Sue COAT". The name of the holiday is frequently translated "Feast of Tabernacles," which, like many translations of Jewish terms, isn't very useful. This translation is particularly misleading, because the word "tabernacle" in the Bible refers to the portable Sanctuary in the desert, a precursor to the Temple, called in Hebrew "mishkan." The Hebrew word "Sukka" (plural: "sukkot") refers to the temporary tent-like houses that people lived in, not to the Tabernacle.
Sukkot lasts for seven days. The day following the festival, Shemini Atzeret (which is also Simchat Torah), is a separate holiday but is related to Sukkot and is commonly thought of as part of Sukkot.
The festival of Sukkot is instituted in Leviticus 23:33 et seq. No work is permitted on the first day of the holiday, which is known as a Yom Tov—a "good day". Work is permitted on the remaining days. These intermediate days on which work is permitted are referred to as Chol Ha-Mo'ed, the "unholy of the holy", as in the times that are more special than a regular day but less than Shabbat or a Yom Tov.
Building a Sukka
You will dwell in Sukkot for seven days; all natives of Israel shall dwell in Sukkot. -Leviticus 23:42
In honor of the holiday's historical significance, we are commanded to dwell in temporary shelters, as our ancestors did in the wilderness. The temporary shelter is referred to as a Sukka (which is the singular form of the plural word "sukkot"). Like the word sukkot, it can be pronounced like Sue-KAH.
The Sukka is great fun for the children. Building the Sukka each year satisfies the common childhood fantasy of building a fort, and dwelling in the Sukka satisfies a child's desire to camp out in the backyard. The commandment to "dwell" in a Sukka can be fulfilled by simply eating all of one's meals there; however, if the weather, climate, and one's health permit, one should really spend as much time in the Sukka as possible, (just like one does in one's home), including sleeping in it.
A Sukka must have at least two and a half walls, either built with bricks or wood, or covered with a material that will not blow away in the wind. The walls of the Sukka do not have to be solid; canvas covering tied or nailed down is acceptable and quite common. A Sukka may be any size, so long as it is large enough for you to fulfill the commandment of dwelling in it. The roof of the Sukka must be made of material referred to as sechach (literally, covering). To fulfill the commandment, sechach must be something that grew from the ground and was cut off, such as tree branches, corn stalks or bamboo reeds. Sechach must be left loose, not tied together or tied down. Sechach must be placed sparsely enough that rain can get in, and preferably sparsely enough that the stars can be seen, but not so sparsely that more than ten inches is open at any point or that there is more light than shade. The sechach must be put on last.
It is common practice to decorate the Sukka. Many families hang artwork drawn by the children on the walls as well as paper-chains in different colors. Building and decorating a Sukka is a fun family project.
Arba'at HaMinim: The Four Species
On the first day, you will take for yourselves a fruit of a beautiful tree, palm branches, twigs of a braided tree and brook willows, and you will rejoice before the L-RD your G-d for seven days. -Leviticus 23:40
Another observance during Sukkot involves what are known as the Four Species (arba'at haminim). We are commanded to take four plants and use them to "rejoice before the L-rd." The four species in question are an etrog (a citrus fruit similar to a lemon native to Israel; in English it is called a citron), a lulav (palm branch), two aravot (willow branches) and three hadassim (myrtle branches). The six branches are bound together while the etrog is held separately. With these four species in hand, one recites a blessing and waves the species in all six directions (east, south, west, north, up and down), symbolizing the fact that G-d is everywhere.
The four species are also held and waved during the Hallel prayer in religious services, and are held during processions around the bimah (the pedestal where the Torah is read) called hakafot each day during the holiday. These processions commemorate similar processions around the altar of the ancient Mikdash (temple) in Jerusalem. This part of the service is known as Hoshanot, because while the procession is made, we recite a prayer with the refrain, "Hosha na!" (please save us!). On the seventh day of Sukkot, seven circuits are made. For this reason, the seventh day of Sukkot is known as Hoshana Rabbah (the great Hosha-na).
After the circuits on Hoshanah Rabbah, there is a minhag (an observance) to beat the willow branches against the floor five times, shaking loose some or all of the remaining leaves. A number of explanations are offered for this unusual beating practice, but the primary reason seems to be agricultural: the rainy season in Israel begins in the fall, and the leaves falling from the willow branch symbolize our desire for beneficial rainfall.
Why are these four plants used instead of other plants? There are two primary explanations of the symbolic significance of these plants: that they represent different parts of the body, or that they represent different kinds of Jews.
According to the first interpretation, the long straight palm branch represents the spine. The myrtle leaf, which is a small oval, represents the eye. The willow leaf, a long oval, represents the mouth, and the etrog fruit represents the heart. All of these parts have the potential to be used for sin, but should join together in the performance of mitzvot (commandments).
According to the second interpretation, the etrog, which has both a pleasing taste and a pleasing scent, represents Jews who have achieved both knowledge of Torah and performance of mitzvot. The palm branch, which produces tasty fruit, but has no scent, represents Jews who have knowledge of Torah but are lacking in mitzvot. The myrtle leaf, which has a strong scent but no taste, represents Jews who perform mitzvot but have little knowledge of Torah. The willow, which has neither taste nor scent, represents Jews who have no knowledge of Torah and do not perform the mitzvot. We bring all four of these species together on Sukkot to remind us that every one of these four kinds of Jews is important, and that we must all be united.
And with the common blessing that one Jew blesses another on this special holiday, I wish to bless you all with a Chag Same'ach—a happy holiday. The traditional reply to that is "Chagim U'Zmanim Le'Sasson"—"holidays and events for joy".
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