SUKKOT 5776 (FESTIVAL OF TABERNACLES 2015)
27 September – 2 October 2015
Shemini Atzeret 03 October, Simchat Torah 04 October
The Festival of Sukkot begins on Tishri 15, the fifth day after The Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), which this year, begins tomorrow evening. It is an extremely drastic transition, from one of the most solemn holidays (holy day), in our year to one of the most joyous. It is a universal holiday, inviting all to join on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem: “Then, the survivors from all the nations that have attacked Jerusalem will go up [to Jerusalem] every year to worship the Lord Almighty and to celebrate the Festival of Tabernacles.” [Zachariah 14: 16-19 on the first day of Sukkot]
This festival is sometimes referred to as the Season of our Rejoicing, (Zeman Simchateinu). Sukkot lasts for seven days. The two days following the festival are Shemini Atzeret, [which literally means “the assembly of the eighth (day)] and Simchat Torah. Rabbinic literature explains this holiday as follows: G-d is like a host, who invites us as visitors for a limited time, but when the time comes for us to leave, He has enjoyed himself so much that He asks us to stay another day. Simchat Torah, is a holiday celebrating the end and beginning of the cycle of weekly Torah readings. Separate holidays, but commonly thought of as part of Sukkot.
The word “Sukkot” means “booths,” (Sukkah is one booth/outdoor dwelling) and refers to the temporary dwellings that we are commanded to live in during this holiday. The name of the holiday is frequently translated as “The Feast of Tabernacles.”
Sukkot has a dual significance: historical and agricultural. The holiday commemorates the forty-year period during which the children of Israel wandered in the desert, living in temporary shelters under the stars. Sukkot is also a harvest festival, and is sometimes referred to as Chag Ha-Asif, the Festival of the Ingathering.
This festival 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 Ha-Mo’ed’.
In honour of the holiday’s historical significance, we are commanded to dwell in temporary shelters, just as our ancestors did in the wilderness. 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 live and sleep in the sukkah as much as possible.
For a kosher sukkah, it must have at least three walls covered with a material that will not blow away in the wind, like canvas covering tied or nailed down. It may be any size, as long as it is large enough to enable the commandment of dwelling within. The roof must be made of material referred to as s’chach (literally, a covering). For fulfillment of the commandment, s’chach (i.e. palm fronds, tree branches), must be something that grew from the ground and was cut off, such as tree branches, corn stalks, bamboo reeds, sticks, etc. S’chach must be left loose, not tied together or tied down. “S’chach must be placed sparsely enough that rain can get in, and preferably sparsely enough that the stars can be seen, but not so bare that more than ten inches is open at any point or that there is more light than shade. The s’chah must be put on last.”
In and around South Africa, plant nurseries and city councils, cut down palm fronds and sell them to the public at this time of the year. Your Sukkah is not kosher if it does not conform to all of the requirements.
It is common practice, and highly commendable, to decorate the sukkah. In the north eastern United States, Jews commonly hang dried squash and corn in the sukkah to decorate it, as these vegetables are readily available at this time of year, for the American holidays of Halloween and Thanksgiving. In South Africa we make use of all the seasonal fruit and vegetables, which are spring/summer harvests.
Building and decorating a sukkah is a fun, family project, much like decorating the Christmas tree is for Christians. It is a sad commentary on modern American Judaism that most of the highly assimilated Jews who complain about being deprived of the fun of having and decorating a Christmas tree, have never even heard of Sukkot.
Over a [past] decade up to 3 years ago, I’ve ‘traditionally’ spent these chagim (holidays), with my children and grandchildren in the USA and I do enjoy helping my grandkids decorate their Sukkah – we made paper chains and I teach them the art of cutting paper doilies and we paint masses of wonderful, colourful pictures and generally turn the whole preparation into an art workshop. Do I resent not being with them this year? … hell yeah! I resent every day I can’t be with them!
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, which is a citrus fruit , much like a large lemon native to Israel, a palm branch (in Hebrew, lulav), a myrtle branch (hadas) and a willow branch (arava)