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What is Sukkot?

by Rabbi Yeruchem Eilfort

  

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Biblical in origin, Sukkot is a seven-day Holiday divided into two periods (Yom Tov & Chol Hamoed). The seven-day holiday is immediately followed by, and connected to, a separate concluding Holiday called Shmini Atzeret/Simchat Torah. In Israel Shmini Atzeret/Simchat Torah is one day, while in the Diaspora it is two days.

What is Sukkot all about?

On Sukkot we commemorate the divine protection enjoyed by our ancestors during their 40-year sojourn in the wilderness1. During that time the Clouds of Glory shielded the Children of Israel from the radical elements and conditions common in the desert. The primary feature, and namesake, of this Holiday is the Sukkah, which represents the shelter provided by the Clouds of Glory.

On Sukkot we also celebrate the final harvest of the year2. This is expressed through the other feature of this Holiday, the Four Species. That is also why many people have the custom to hang fruits from the roof of their Sukkah and why the holiday is associated with the blessings of a great bounty. 

Sukkot is also known as "The Season of our Rejoicing"3. In ancient Israel there was a special "Water Libation Festival" in the Holy Temple every night of Sukkot. Our sages said4 "He who has not seen the festivities of the water libation ceremony has never seen [true] festivities in his life".

Sukkot continues to be a joyous holiday, and in many communities the festivities of the "water libation ceremony" are replicated(without any water libation, but) with outdoor festivals. A Holiday less than a week after Yom Kippur, it is time to celebrate the blessings and good verdicts we received on the judgment days of the High Holidays. The Holiday also celebrates Jewish unity5, which is an added reason for rejoicing.

The beauty of family and friends gathered together eating, singing, celebrating and schmoozing within a gorgeous sukkah cannot be adequately described. It is the type of scene that will leave an indelible mark on one's memory. It is the type of positive reinforcement that will make our children proud Jews forever. The scene fills the heart with appreciation of G-d Almighty, and truly makes this, "The Season of our Rejoicing!"

See also When are Sukkot and Shmini Atzeret/Simchat Torah? and How is Sukkot Celebrated?

Footnotes

  • 1. Leviticus 23:42-43 - "Every resident among the Israelites shall live in booths, in order that your [ensuing] generations should know that I had the children of Israel live in booths when I took them out of the land of Egypt."
  • 2. Leviticus 23:39-40 - "But on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you gather in the produce of the land, you shall celebrate the festival of the Lord for a seven day period... And you shall take for yourselves on the first day, the fruit of the hadar tree, date palm fronds, a branch of a braided tree, and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God for a seven day period.
  • 3. From the liturgy of the Sukkot prayers, based on the Torah's command in Deuteronomy 16:13-15
  • 4. Mishnah Sukkah 5:1
  • 5. The Sukkah is all encompassing, and the many different people sitting in it are all part of one and the same Mitzvah. Additionally the Four Species represent all the types of Jews, and we bring them together on this Holiday. See http://www.askmoses.com/en/article/198,133180/What-is-the-significance-of-the-Four-Species.html

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Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Sukkot
A seven day autumn festival commemorating the miracle of the Heavenly Clouds which enveloped the Jews while traveling in the desert for forty years. On this holiday we dwell in makeshift booths and shake the Four Species.
Yom Kippur
Day of Atonement. This late-autumn high-holiday is the holiest day of the year. We devote this day to repentance and all healthy adults are required to fast.
Sukkah
The temporary structure in which we are required to dwell for the duration of the holiday of Sukkot. The Sukkah must have at least three walls and its roof consists of unsecured branches, twigs or wooden slats.
Shmini Atzeret
A joyous one-day autumn festival immediately following the holiday of Sukkot. Outside Israel this holiday is celebrated for two days, the second day is known as Simchat Torah.
Yom Tov
Jewish Holiday.
Temple
1. Usually a reference to the Holy Temple which was/will be situated in Jerusalem. 1st Temple was built in 825 BCE and was destroyed in 423 BCE. The 2nd Temple was built in 350 BCE and was destroyed in 70 CE. The 3rd Temple will be built by the Messiah. 2. A synagogue.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.