10/16/2009 93 °F
Five days after Yom Kipper is the week long holiday Sukkot. A sukkah is a hut or booth so sometimes this holiday is called the Feast of Boothes or the Feast of Tabernacles. The season of Sukkot commemorates the 40 years of wandering in the desert for the children of Israel before they entered the Promised Land. In those days they lived in fragile, portable dwellings in land that was not their own. During the festival of Sukkot families erect little sukkah's for their family on the back porch or in the yard. People camp out in their sukkah for the week. Or if not to that extent, many families at least eat their meals out in the sukkah and gather around with friends and neighbors in the evenings of Sukkot for evening conversation. Most restaurants have sukkah's too for their patrons to continue participating in the Sukkot festival even away from home.
Sukkah's are constructed with simple materials. Usually the structure of it is some type of plastic or bamboo poles which is covered with either fabric or plastic. Stores even sell special plastic sheets which are predecorated that look like giant tablecloths and may be simply attached to the poles for quick construction and simple break down. Some sukkah's are made of wood. They are usually decorated with the symbols of Sukkot and have colorful streamers, Chinese lamps dangling from the ceiling. It is believed that there is a special heavenly reward for those who take extra care to decorate their sukkah with extra special creative flair. Sukkah's must have some type of raw vegetation for the roof such as palm branches, reeds, corn stalks, evergreen branches depending on what is available in your geographical region. The sukkah tradition comes from Leviticus 23:42-43 which says: "Live in booths for seven days: All native-born Israelites are to live in booths so your descendants will know that I had the Israelites live in booths when I brought them out of Egypt. I am the LORD your God."
Sukkot is also the season of harvest in Israel. It is one of the three biblical pilgrim holidays in which people of Israel made a trip to the temple in Jerusalem to thank God for the harvest. Offerings of the first fruits were made to the Lord during the season of Sukkot as a way of acknowledging that He was the giver of all of the bounty and to thank Him for His provision. Even though there is no temple in Jerusalem today, token visits are still made to Jerusalem in remembrance. Ironically King Solomon dedicated the temple in Jerusalem on Sukkot (1 Kings 8 and 2 Chron. 7).
There are special prayers and blessings recited every night of Sukkot as well as certain symbols for the season. All over Israel in city squares before the holiday begins are tables filled with all of the Sukkot items for sale. People flock to purchase their sukkah supplies and also their 4 Fruits: palm (lulav), willow (aravah), citrus (etrog), and myrtle (hadas). Each of these are symbols representing different Israeli's. These symbols are made into a bouquet in each home in Israel and when the Sukkot prayers are said each evening the bouquet is held to signify that although there are differences in Israel, there is unity.
In the words of the Midrash:
The etrog (citrus) has both a taste and an aroma; so, too, do the people of Israel include individuals who have both Torah learning and good deeds. The date (the fruit of the lulav) (palm) has a taste but does not have an aroma; so, too, do the people of Israel include individuals who have Torah but do not have good deeds. The hadas (myrtle) has an aroma but not a taste; so, too, do the people of Israel include individuals who have good deeds but do not have Torah. The aravah (willow) has no taste and no aroma; so, too, do the people of Israel include individuals who do not have Torah and do not have good deeds. Says G-d: "Let them all bond together in one bundle and atone for each other." Many additional interpretations have been extracted from this "many and yet one" way of thinking. For example on writer explained that in addition to many different kinds of people one nation, individuals have many different personal qualities and goals that fluctuate in an individuals life sometimes conflicting and yet exist simultaneously.
The day after Sukkot ends (but in no way connected to Sukkot) is the holiday Simchat Torah which means "the joy of the law". This day concludes the annual reading of the Torah and celebrates a new year to reread it. In the synagogues (in the evening and the next morning), Simchat Torah is the only day the Torah scrolls are taken down. They are paraded around the synagogue where there is great dancing and singing. Special treats and candles are given and received. After the dancing three sections of the Torah are read by the people. Each man and the children (and in some synagogues the woman participate too) are given a special passage to read aloud. To save time, sometimes passages are given to couples or groups. It is a special honor to be given the portion from Genesis. There is also a portion read from Joshua and a portion from one of the prophets.