Sukkot is a Jewish holiday that is celebrated in the autumn on the 14th of Tishrei, four days after Yom Kippur. It is one of the three major pilgrimage festivals in Judaism, along with Passover and Shavuot, which means that it has almost all the same laws as Shabbat. Sukkot lasts for seven days, with an additional day, called Shemini Atzeret, immediately following. Outside of Israel, an extra day, known as Simchat Torah, is observed, during which the annual cycle of Torah readings is completed and restarted.
The origins of Sukkot can be traced back to biblical times. In the Torah, specifically Leviticus 23:33-44 and Deuteronomy 16:13-15, Sukkot is described as a commemoration of the Israelites’ journey through the desert after the exodus from Egypt. During their wandering, the Israelites lived in temporary dwellings, known as sukkot, or booths, hence the name of the holiday. Sukkot serves as a reminder of their dependence on God’s protection and provision during this period.
- Building a Sukkah: One of the central observances of Sukkot is the construction of a sukkah, a temporary outdoor structure. A sukkah typically has three or four walls and a roof made of organic materials, such as branches or bamboo. The roof should be porous enough to see the stars, and the walls can be made of various materials, including canvas or wooden panels. Many families decorate their sukkah with artwork, fruits, and other decorative items.
- Dwelling in the Sukkah: During Sukkot, it is customary for Jews to eat their meals, learn Torah, host friends, and ideally sleep in the sukkah, because one should treat the sukkah like his house. This practice allows individuals to experience a sense of vulnerability and thereby connect to the experience of the Israelites. It is a great reminder of how temperary things in life really are, and a reminder not to take anything for granted.
- Arba Minim (Four Species): Another important aspect of Sukkot is the mitzvah (commandment) of the Four Species, also known as the Arba Minim. These four species are the etrog (citron), lulav (palm frond), hadassim (myrtle branches), and aravot (willow branches). They are held together and waved in specific directions during the holiday prayers.
Torah Readings and Sources: During the festival of Sukkot, specific Torah readings are assigned for each day. The readings highlight the themes of Sukkot and the historical events associated with it. The readings include:
The Arba Minim (Four Species): The Arba Minim, which are an integral part of Sukkot, represent unity and symbolize different types of Jews. They are as follows:
- Etrog: A citrus fruit, resembling a large lemon, with a unique fragrance. It represents the heart, symbolizing those who study and follow the Torah.
- Lulav: A closed frond from a date palm tree. It represents the spine and represents those who possess knowledge but lack good deeds.
- Hadassim: Myrtle branches with a sweet fragrance. They represent the eyes and symbolize those who have good deeds but lack knowledge.
- Aravot: Willow branches with no fragrance. They represent the lips and symbolize those who possess neither knowledge nor good deeds.
By bringing together these four species, individuals express the importance of unity among all types of Jews, acknowledging that each person has unique qualities to contribute to the community. Only when all four species are brought together can the mitzvah be performed, and likewise when all Jews are brought together this is the way we will fulfill God’s will.
These readings are derived from the Torah itself and are intended to reinforce the themes of Sukkot, including gratitude, unity, and remembrance of the historical journey.
- First Day: Leviticus 22:26-23:44, Numbers 29:12-16
- Second Day: Zechariah 14:1-21
- Third Day: Leviticus 25:1-13
- Fourth Day: Numbers 29:17-25
- Fifth Day: Numbers 29:20-28
- Sixth Day: Numbers 29:23-31
- Seventh Day: Numbers 29:26-34
- Shemini Atzeret: Deuteronomy 14:22-16:17
Sukkot commemorates the Israelites’ journey through the desert. It involves building a sukkah, dwelling in it, and performing the mitzvah of the Arba Minim. Torah readings assigned for each day during Sukkot highlight its significance, and the holiday encourages unity and gratitude within the Jewish community who can connect to their ancient roots.