סכות

SUKKOT

סֻכּוֹת (Sukkot) means "booths" or "huts," and refers to the Jewish festival of giving thanks for the fall harvest.  It also commemorates the 40 years of Jewish wandering in the desert after the giving of the תּוֹרָה (Torah) atop Mt. Sinai.  

סֻכּוֹת (Sukkot) is also called זְמַן שִמְחַתֵינוּ (Z’man Simchateinu) (Season of Our Rejoicing) and is the only Jewish holiday with a commandment to rejoice. A final name for סֻכּוֹת  (Sukkot) is חַג הַאָסִיף (Chag HaAsif), (Festival of the Ingathering). This name reminds us to give thanks for the bounty of the earth during the fall harvest.

Story

Like many societies, the ancient Hebrews had many different agricultural festivals. סֻכּוֹת (Sukkot) likely has its roots in one of these ceremonies giving thanks to God for a good crop. By biblical times, סֻכּוֹת (Sukkot) had become a celebration of the summer fruit harvest.

Initially, the holiday that became סֻכּוֹת (Sukkot) had no fixed date and was observed whenever the harvest had been completed. By תּוֹרָה (Torah) times, the Book of Leviticus (23:24) set the date on the calendar.

 

On the fifteenth day of the seventh month, there will be a Feast of Tabernacles to God for seven days.

 

סֻכּוֹת (Sukkot) later became one of the three Jewish Pilgrimage Festivals - שָׁלֹש רְגָלִים (Shalosh R’galim). On these three festivals, Passover, Shavuot and סֻכּוֹת (Sukkot), the people would bring a portion of their harvest’s first fruits to the Temple in Jerusalem. There, it would be offered as a sacrifice to God by the High Priest. After the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E., סֻכּוֹת (Sukkot) became a synagogue and home celebration, with unique rituals and symbols.

 

סֻכּוֹת (Sukkot) also had a strong historical significance. Just as Passover is tied to the Exodus from Egypt and Shavuot is associated with the giving of the Torah, סֻכּוֹת (Sukkot) has come to reflect the experience of the Israelites wandering in the wilderness. The 40 years of wandering in the desert prior to entering the Land of Israel is captured, symbolically, in the frail סוּכָּה (Sukkah).

Season

סֻכּוֹת (Sukkot) begins five days after יוֹם כִּפּוּר (Yom Kippur) on the 15th day of תִשרֵי (Tishrei). It is observed for seven days by Israelis and many Reform Jews, and for eight days by other Jews living outside Israel. The eighth day of סֻכּוֹת (Sukkot), שְׁמִינִי עֲצֶרֶת (Shemini Atzeret), is traditionally a separate festival in its own right. The second day of שְׁמִינִי עֲצֶרֶת (Shemini Atzeret) is called שִׂמְחַת תּוֹרָה (Simchat Torah), the festival of “rejoicing in the תּוֹרָה (Torah).”

Key Words

palm branch - לוּלָב
joy/happiness - שִמְחָה

booths - סֻכּוֹת
booth - סוּכָּה

Prayers

We begin סֻכּוֹת (Sukkot) by lighting the festival candles with a special בְּרָכָה‎ (blessing).

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶׁר  קִדְּשָֽׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו, וְצִוָּֽנוּ לְהַדְלִיק נֵר שֶׁל יוֹם טוֹב.

Baruch Ata ADONAI Eloheinu Melech ha'olam, asher kid'shanu b'mitzvotav,

v'tzivanu l'hadlik ner shel Yom Tov.

Blessed are You, ADONAI, our God, Ruler of the universe, who makes us holy through the commandments and commands us to kindle the festival lights.

There's also a special בְּרָכָה‎ (blessing) when you sit in the סוּכָּה (Sukkah).

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶׁר  קִדְּשָֽׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו, וְצִוָּֽנוּ לֵישֵב בַסֻכָה.

Baruch Ata ADONAI Eloheinu Melech ha'olam, asher kid'shanu b'mitzvotav,

v'tzivanu leishev ba'sukkah.

Blessed are You, ADONAI, our God, Ruler of the universe, who makes us holy through the commandments and commands us to sit in the sukkah.

Here's the בְּרָכָה‎ (blessing) for shaking the לוּלַב (lulav) and אֶתְרוֹג (etrog).
 

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶׁר  קִדְּשָֽׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו, וְצִוָּֽנוּ עַל נְטִילַת לוּלָב.

Baruch Ata ADONAI Eloheinu Melech ha'olam, asher kid'shanu b'mitzvotav,

v'tzivanu al n'tilat lulav.

Blessed are You, ADONAI, our God, Ruler of the universe who makes us holy with the commandments and commands us to take up the lulav.

If it's your first time shaking don't forget to say she'he'che'yanu.

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם ֿ שֶׁהֶחֱיָנוּ וְקִיְּמָנוּ וְהִגִּיעָנוּ לזְּמַן הַזֶּה.

Baruch Ata ADONAI Eloheinu Melech ha'olam, she'he'che'yanu v'ki'yemanu

v'higianu lazman hazeh.

Blessed are you, ADONAI, our God, Ruler of the universe, who has given us life, sustained us, and helped us to reach this moment.

Rituals

סֻכּוֹת (Sukkot) celebrates the fall harvest, expressed by blessing and waving the לוּלַב (lulav) and the אֶתְרוֹג (etrog), symbols of the harvest; by building and decorating a סוּכָּה (sukkah); and by extending hospitality to friends and family.

 

Sukkah

The סוּכָּה (sukkah) symbolizes the frail huts in which the Israelites lived during their 40 years of wandering in the desert after the Exodus from Egypt. It also serves to remind Jews of the biblical account of how God protected them, provided for their needs in the wilderness, and still watches over us today.

סֻכּוֹת (Sukkot) come in many variations, but there are some guidelines to follow when building them. Two important ones are:

  • A סוּכָּה (sukkah) has to have at least three walls. Only one can be an existing wall, like the side of a house. The walls may be constructed of any material, generally canvas, wood or metal. Today, it is possible tobuy ready-to-assemble סוּכָּה (sukkah) kits.

  • The roof is to be temporary, covered with loose branches from trees or anything that grows out of the ground, and has been cut off from the ground. According to tradition, this roof covering, s’chach, should give shade and yet allow those in the סוּכָּה (sukkah) to see the stars through the roof at night.

 

Once the סוּכָּה (sukkah) is built, it is common to decorate it by hanging fruit and other items from the s’chach, putting posters on the walls, and even laying carpet on the floor.​

Lulav and Etrog

The לוּלַב (lulav) is a combination of date palm, willow and myrtle branches, held together by a woven palm branch. The אֶתְרוֹג (etrog), or citron, is a lemon-like fruit with a wonderful citrus smell. 

The ritual for the לוּלַב (lulav) and אֶתְרוֹג (etrog) is as follows:

  1. Stand facing east. Place the לוּלַב (lulav) (with the spine facing you, myrtle on the right and the willows on the left) in your right hand and the אֶתְרוֹג (etrog) in your left hand. Make sure the stem of the אֶתְרוֹג (etrog) is up and the pitom is facing down. Bring your hands together so that the לוּלַב (lulav) and אֶתְרוֹג (etrog) are side by side.

  2. Next, recite the special blessing: "Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Ruler of the universe, who has sanctified us through Your mitzvot and ordained the taking of the לוּלַב (lulav)." You can learn this blessing in the "Prayers" section above.

  3. If its your first time shaking this year, add the Shehecheyanu prayer.

  4. Turn the אֶתְרוֹג (etrog) around so the stem is down and the pitom is facing up.

  5. Finally, the לוּלַב (lulav) is shaken in all directions – east, south, west, north, up, and down. This reminds us that God is all around us. When you're waving your לוּלַב (lulav) and אֶתְרוֹג (etrog) in synagogue you can add the words – Hodu l'Adonai ki tov ki l'olam chasdo. "Give thanks to God, for God is good, for God's loving-kindness endures forever."

© 2016 by Rabbi David Paskin

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