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The Feast of Sukkot

Posted by hjdenson on October 2, 2012


From Sundown on September 30 to

Sundown on October 2nd, 2012

On the fifteenth day of this seventh month is the Festival of Sukkot seven days for the Lord. –Leviticus 23:34

Shalom to our friends:

Here I am again sharing some of the Jewish traditions.

The celebration of the Festival of Sukkot;  “Zman Simchateinou” a Time to Rejoice.  We eat all our meals in the Sukkah with family and friends.  It is a great “MITZVAH” (good deed) to invite and host, so please do stop by, there so much food for all!!

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 Shelosha R’galim (three pilgrimage festivals).  Like 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” means “booths”, and 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 “sukkah” (plural: “sukkot”) refers to the temporary booths that people lived in, not to the Tabernacle.

Sukkot lasts for seven days.  The two days following the festival, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, are separate holidays but are related to Sukkot and are 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 and second days of the holiday.  Work is permitted on the remaining days.  These intermediate days on which work is permitted are referred to as Chol H-Mo’ed, as are the intermediate days of Passover. 


You will dwell in booths for seven days; all natives of Israel shall dwell in booths. -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 sukkah.  Like the word sukkot, it can be pronounced like Sue-KAH, or to rhyme with Book-a.

A Sukkah must have at least two and a half walls covered with a material that  will not blow away in the wind.  Why two and half walls?  Look at the letters in the word “sukkah” (see the graphic in the heading); one letter has four sides, one has three sides and one has two and a half sides.  

The “walls” of the sukkah do not have to be solid; canvas covering tied or nailed down is acceptable and quite common in the United States.  A sukkah 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 sukkah must be made of material referred to as sekhakh (literally, covering).  To fulfill the commandment, sekhakh must be something that grew from the ground and was cut off, such as tree branches, corn stalks, bamboo reeds, sticks, or two-by-fours.  Sekhakh must be left loose, not tied together or tied down.  Sekhakh 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 Sekhakh must be put on last.  Note:  you may put a water-proof cover over the top of the sukkah when it is raining to protect the contents of the sukkah, but you cannot use it as a sukkah while it is covered and you must remove the cover to fulfill the mitzvah of dwelling in a sukkah. 

It is common practice, and highly commendable, to decorate the sukkah.  In the northeastern United States, Jews commonly hang dried squash and corn in the sukkah to decorate it, because these vegetables are readily available at that time for the  holiday of Thanksgiving.  Many families hang artwork drawn by the children on the walls.  Building and decorating a sukkah is a fun for the entire family .

The Sukkah is great fun for the children.  Building the Sukkah each year satisfies the common childhood fantasy of building a fort, and dwelling in the sukkah satisfies a child’s desire to camp out in the backyard.  The commandment to “dwell” in a Sukkah can be fulfilled by simply eating all of one’s meals there; however, if the weather, climate, and one’s health permit, one should spend as much time in the sukkah as possible, including sleeping in it.

For forty years, as the  Jewish people traversed the Sinai Desert, following the Exodus from Egypt, miraculous “clouds of glory” surrounded and hovered over them, shielding them from the dangers and discomforts of the desert.  Ever since, we remember G-d’s kindness and reaffirm our trust in His providence by dwelling in a sukkah for the duration of the Sukkot festival. 

For seven days and nights, we eat all our meals in the sukkah and otherwise regard it as our home.

The following blessing is recited when

eating a meal in the Sukkah:

Baruch atah adonai eloheinu melech ha’olam

asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu leisheiv basukkah.


The Four Species

Another observance related to Sukkot involves what are known as The Four   Species (arba minim in Hebrew) or the lulav and etrog.  We are commanded to take these four plants and use them to “rejoice before the L-rd.” 

The Four Species in question are an etrog (a citrus fruit native to Israel), a palm branch (in Hebrew, lulav), a myrtle branch (hadas) and a willow branch (arava).

Every morning of Sukkot, except on Shabbat, it is the custom to hold the lulav in the right hand and the etrog in the left.  Bringing them together (with the pitam, the stem of the etrog pointing downward).

 the following blessing is recited:

Baruch atah adonai eloheinu melech ha’olam

asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu al n’tilat lulav.

Hag Sameach! 

 Happy Holy Day!!!

Shalom Ministryand Staff

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