Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Sukkot Reposted

I originally posted this in 2009.  Instead of writing a new post I submit this for your enjoyment.


Sukkot or the Festival of Tabernacles begins 5 days after Yom Kippur. The holiday lasts for 7 days, and is immediately followed by another festive day known as Shemini Atzeret. The word Sukkot is the plural of the Hebrew word sukkah, meaning booth or hut. The sukkah is reminiscent of the type of the fragile dwellings in which the ancient Israelites dwelt during their 40 years of wandering in the desert after the Exodus from Egypt. Throughout the holiday the sukkah becomes the living area of the house, and all meals are eaten in it. On each day of the holiday, members of the household recite a blessing over the lulav and etrog, or Four species.

Sukkot was agricultural in origin. This is evident from the biblical name "The Feast of Ingathering," from the ceremonies accompanying it, from the season – “The festival of the seventh month” – and occasion of its celebration: "At the end of the year when you gather in your labors out of the field" (Ex. 23:16); "after you have gathered in from your threshing-floor and from your winepress" (Deut. 16:13). It was a thanksgiving for the fruit harvest. Coming as it did at the completion of the harvest, Sukkot was regarded as a general thanksgiving for the bounty of nature in the year that had passed.

Sukkot became one of the most important feasts in Judaism, as indicated by its designation as “the Feast of the Lord” or simply “the Feast”. Perhaps because of its wide attendance, Sukkot became the appropriate time for important state ceremonies. Moses instructed the children of Israel to gather for a reading of the Law during Sukkot every seventh year (Deut. 31:10-11). King Solomon dedicated the Temple in Jerusalem on Sukkot (1 Kings 8; 2 Chron. 7). And Sukkot was the first sacred occasion observed after the resumption of sacrifices in Jerusalem after the Babylonian captivity (Ezra 3:2-4).

In Leviticus, God told Moses to command the people: “On the first day you shall take the product of hadar trees, branches of palm trees, boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook” (Lev. 23:40), and “You shall live in booths seven days; all citizens in Israel shall live in booths, in order that future generations may know that I made the Israelite people live in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt” (Lev. 23:42-43). In the time of Nehemiah, after the Babylonian captivity, the Israelites celebrated Sukkot by making and dwelling in booths, a practice of which Nehemiah reports: “the Israelites had not done so from the days of Joshua” (Neh. 8:13-17).

Observance of Sukkot is detailed in Mishnah (Sukkah 1:1–5:8); Tosefta (Sukkah 1:1–4:28); Jerusalem Talmud (Sukkah 1a); and Babylonian Talmud (Sukkah 2a–56b).

According to halakha, one must eat major meals and sleep in a Sukka (a hut with an open roof). In the case of rain eating and sleeping are not a requirement. The Four species must be waved.

The holiday immediately following Sukkot is known as Shemini Atzeret. Shemini Atzeret is viewed as a separate holiday. In the diaspora, a second additional holiday, Simchat Torah is celebrated. In the Land of Israel, Simchat Torah is celebrated on Shemini Atzeret. On Shemini Atzeret the sukkah is left and meals are eaten inside the house. Outside of Israel, many eat in the sukkah without making the blessing. The sukkah is not used on Simchat Torah.
Now imagine trying to explain the building of a sukkah to your landlord or local building authority. A hut with 4 walls and a roof with big holes in it. Could lead to some interesting civil discussions.

Or you have a father who cannot hammer 2 boards together, and yet insists on designing and building a sukkah (We've destroyed those pictures for the sake of family honor). Needless to say I learned some new words on those days.

I do love this holiday (one of 3 mandated in the bible).

So have a safe Sukkot! And remember that next year you can buy the pre-made Sukkah and avoid the embarrassment and laughter of your neighbors.

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