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The Festival of Sukkot

Five days after Yom Kippur, we celebrate the festival of Sukkot. Each of the three pilgrimage festivals, Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot, has both an historical reference and an agricultural one.

For example, Pesach represents the time of our exodus from Egypt and the spring season. Shavuot represents the Giving (and Receiving) of the Torah and the summer crop. Sukkot reminds us of the Israelites wandering through the desert for 40 years and the fall harvest.

There are two mitzvot that are particular to Sukkot. The first is the obvious – the dwelling in the Sukkah (a booth or hut but more about that below) and the use of the “four species” – the lulav, the etrog, and the myrtle and willow branches (called Hadasim and Aravot).

Sukkot is a 7-day holiday. The days following Sukkot – Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah are separate holidays. NOTE: In Israel, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah are combined and celebrated together on one day only). 

There is a great contrast between the holidays of Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Sukkot. Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur may be considered “indoor” holidays. That is, we normally (not in a Covid-19 year) spend many hours inside the synagogue. Sukkot, on the other hand, is an outside festival where we spend time outside the home” (i.e. inside the Sukkah). Interestingly, the commandment is not to build the Sukkah but to “dwell” there. While sleeping in the Sukkah may be a bit too much for most, the Sukkah is certainly the place – weather permitting – to eat, to read, to play games and to invite friends to shmooze.

All of our commandments/mitzvot, come from the Torah and Sukkot is no exception. The historical reference to Sukkot can be found in Leviticus 23:42-43. The Torah speaks of the holiday’s agricultural aspect three verses earlier (Leviticus 23:39). “On the 15th day of the 7th month when you have gathered your produce of you land, you shall observe the festival of God for seven days”.

Finally, following the solemn Days of Judgment and introspection, Sukkot is known as “z’man simchataynu” – The Time of Our Rejoicing”. In the eyes of our sages, it was the quintessential holiday.

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