Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are recognized by all faiths as the most significant holidays observed by Jews. Days after praying and meditating for forgiveness by God and humanity, the “next” holiday begins. This holiday is Sukkoth (Tabernacles).
What is this seven-day holiday? To top it, what is the holiday which follows for two days after-Shemini Atzereth (the Eighth Day of Assembly) and Simchat Torah (Rejoice in the Torah), occurring on the ninth day? It seems an exhausting schedule of Holy Days, spanning almost a month!
The source of this holiday is in the Torah: “That your generations may know that I made the Children of Israel dwell in booths, when I brought them out of Egypt” (Leviticus 23:43). There is a deep connection between Passover and Sukkot. Both commemorate the Exodus of the Israelites from Egyptian slavery.
To observe this holiday, a temporary structure is built with poles and various materials of cloth. Bamboo sticks or branches cover the top of the “hut-like” dwelling. This outdoor Tabernacle is the major observance for the Sukkot holiday. The sukkah (hut) is used for eating and even sleeping, to commemorate the chain of Jewish tradition from the Sinai deserts to towns everywhere, even Williamsport!
Sukkot is the only holiday given the title “Zman Simchateinu” (the time of rejoicing). After the solemnity of Rosh Hashanah and the introspection of Yom Kippur and praying for atonement, the third holiday is meant to bring happiness.
Another component of this holiday is the pilgrimage. When the Great Temple stood in Jerusalem, people throughout Israel brought their thanksgiving offering. They would bring the Four Species of plants: the Etrog (citron), the Lulav (palm branch), the Hadas (myrtle), and the Arava (willow branch). Each symbolized one part of the people who were in the celebration. The Etrog represents the heart. The Lulav represents the spine. A person is to stand with strength in devotion to God. The Hadas represents the eyes. We must use our vision to perfect the world, avoiding evil. Finally, the Aravah, whose leaves resemble our mouth, reminds us to use wholesome speech and guard our words to project utterances of decency and goodness. These Four Species, together, show that Jews are one, united people.
How do Jews today enjoy Sukkot? Decorating the Sukkah and eating in it with family and friends is an immeasurable joy. For children, there is the “sukkah hop.” Walking among neighborhood sukkahs with other children and receiving goodies brings great joy.
Although the Torah says Sukkot is seven days, there is an Eighth Day called Shemini Atzereth or the Eighth Day of Sukkot. As Israel is about to end this festival, God asks his people to stay another day, “to tarry.” How wonderful to continue in the Presence of God for another day!
Living outside of Israel necessitates a ninth day of observance known as Simchat Torah or “Rejoicing in the Torah.” This day is filled with dancing and singing. All the Torahs are taken out of the Holy Ark and carried throughout the synagogue with great joy. The final reading of the Five Books of Moses takes place from one Torah scroll. After this reading, a second Torah scroll is read from the beginning of Genesis. The beauty of completion and renewal reminds us that there is no end or beginning in understanding the word of God. As the Rabbis in the “Ethics of the Fathers” remind us: “Turn it over, turn it over again and all is revealed.” As the leaves turn colors, the beauty of fall is matched by the loveliness of the Sukkot festival.
The Hebrew phrase “Chag Sameach” (happy holiday) reminds us to be thankful for the bounties of the harvest and rejoice in our good fortune. Therefore, Chag Sameach to all!
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