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Sukkot

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Sukkot

Say to the Israelite people: On the fifteenth day of this seventh month there shall be the Feast of Booths to the LORD, [to last] seven days.”(Leviticus 23:24)[1]

Tishrei fifteen to twenty-one is celebrated for the “Season of Joy.” After completing the sobering Fast of Yom Kippur (self-evaluation and teshuvah), we celebrate the love and provisions G-d has given us. According to Leviticus 23:40 and Deuteronomy 16:14, we are commanded to be happy and rejoice in Hashem. Imagine that, the Creator of the universe and the Highest King wants to celebrate with His people. Instead of complaining, we rejoice and eat yummy kosher foods! Those with a willing and contrite heart were to bring their offerings to Hashem. It is a joyful act to the giver, as well as to the receiver-happiness. It is also a loving way to rejoice in all of Hashem’s provisions He has given.

Sukkot is an ingathering of raising up tents or booths; praising Hashem for delivering us out of the land of Egypt; knowing G-d completed everything. They were to tell their children for all generations to always remember that Elokim is their/our G-d. It is a celebration of resting in Hashem; remembering and praising Hashem for delivering the Israelites, and the mixed-multitude, out of the Egyptian’s hands (slavery) of four hundred and thirty years.

Sukkot is also one of the three appointed times known as “Pilgrimages.” The three pilgrimages are: Passover (Pesach), Shavuot, and Sukkot, as referenced in Deuteronomy 16:16. These appointed times, along with Unleavened Bread (Chag HaMatzah), First Fruits of Barley (Ha Bikkutium), Rosh Hashanah, and Yom Kippur are the festivals of Hashem.

The LORD spoke to Moses, saying: Say to the Israelite people: On the fifteenth day of this seventh month there shall be the Feast of Booths to the LORD, [to last] seven days. The first day shall be a sacred occasion: you shall not work at your occupations; seven days you shall bring offerings by fire to the LORD. On the eighth day you shall observe a sacred occasion and bring an offering by fire to the LORD; it is a solemn gathering: you shall not work at your occupations. Those are the set times of the LORD that you shall celebrate as sacred occasions, bringing offerings by fire to the LORD—burnt offerings, meal offerings, sacrifices, and libations, on each day what is proper to it— apart from the sabbaths of the LORD, and apart from your gifts and from all your votive offerings and from all your freewill offerings that you give to the LORD. Mark, on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the yield of your land, you shall observe the festival of the LORD [to last] seven days: a complete rest on the first day, and a complete rest on the eighth day. On the first day you shall take the product of hadar trees, branches of palm trees, boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the LORD your G-d seven days. You shall observe it as a festival of the LORD for seven days in the year; you shall observe it in the seventh month as a law for all time, throughout the ages. You shall live in booths seven days; all citizens in Israel shall live in booths, in order that future generations may know that I made the Israelite people live in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I the LORD your G-d. So Moses declared to the Israelites the set times of the LORD.” (Leviticus 23:33-44) [2]

Also read:

And Moses instructed them as follows: Every seventh year, the year set for remission, at the Feast of Booths, when all Israel comes to appear before the LORD your G-d in the place that He will choose, you shall read this Teaching aloud in the presence of all Israel. Gather the people—men, women, children, and the strangers in your communities—that they may hear and so learn to revere the LORD your G-d and to observe faithfully every word of this Teaching. Their children, too, who have not had the experience, shall hear and learn to revere the LORD your G-d as long as they live in the land that you are about to cross the Jordan to possess. (Deuteronomy 31:10-13)[3]

Sukkot is the last fall festival. It is also called Booths. On the seventh day of creation, Adam and Chavah were to rest. As you remember, they were created last on Day Six. Many ask why they had to rest when they didn’t even work the garden for a week. It wasn’t anything they did or didn’t do to earn that rest.

The Sabbath/Shabbat/Shabbos was blessed, sanctified, and made Holy. It is a remembrance that everything is completed in Elokim. There isn’t anything we can do to improve what Hashem has already done.

During Sukkot, the priests were divided into three groups. One group was in charge of the offerings and sacrifices. The second group was responsible for drawing water for pouring ceremony. Then there was the third group who would cut the required amount of willows; located from the brook. The High Priest went from the Water Gate, located at the South Gate that went downward to the Siloam pool. A golden vase was used to draw up water from the pool by the priest. During the ceremony, a silver vase would be filled with wine by the High Priest to be carried by the High Priest as the head in the procession line; leading the way to the Temple. From the eastern gate, the Beautiful Gate, the large willows were cut. As they journeyed back from Motzah Valley, the processions line of people sang beautiful praises to G-d. The willows carried were swishing from side to side; creating a sound of a rushing wind (Ruach), and the pilgrims waved their “lulavs” (myrtle, willow, etrog, and palm branch). The first group, a choir of the Levites sang the same songs as the people from Psalms 118:25—The Hallel

“Hosanna, save now!” The branches would be beaten harshly against the altar. The priests would stand in procession thirty feet apart, take one step, wave the willow, and take another step. The waving of the willows created a wind represents the Ruach. The waving during the purposeful steps continued in this fashion all the way up to the temple. As the two groups converged on the temple, another priest stood on the southeast corner of the temple wall and played the flute calling them into the temple. Since the flute was the pierced instrument, he was called the pierced one.

“The LORD is my strength and might; He has become my deliverance. The tents of the victorious resound with joyous shouts of deliverance, “The right hand of the LORD is triumphant!” (Psalms 118:14-15)[4]

Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the LORD. They said: I will sing to the LORD, for He has triumphed gloriously; Horse and driver He has hurled into the sea. The LORD is my strength and might; He is become my deliverance. This is my G-d and I will enshrine Him; The G-d of my father, and I will exalt Him.” (Exodus 15:1-2)[5]

It’s so amazing what Hashem has set before us in the Torah. Hashem desires and longs for us to dwell with Him. There is a very important connection with Pesach and Sukkot that brings them together on a whole new level, chiastically. Passover is the first gathering, Sukkot is the last (bookends), the seventh gathering. On the seven-branch menorah, the first branch and the seventh branch are joined together—a pattern. We have a beginning (Pesach) with its completion (Sukkot), number seven completes. However, when we get to the end, we are back at the beginning—spherical—never-ending. If we were to look at NASA photographs of Rainbows, we’d soon discover they are complete circular formations. No beginning and no end.

Let’s take a closer look that may help bridge the gap for understanding:

Pesach represents the beginning of their (Israelites) first night of freedom, out of Exodus. They had food and shelter provided. Shavuot commemorates the receiving of the Torah, and a covenant given. Sukkot is the last holiday. What we have is freedom to be in covenant with Hashem with His Divine protection—a marriage! It is an Eternal marriage covenant of the Bride, and the Bridegroom.

 

During Sukkot, the children dwelt in booths when Elokim brought them out of Egypt. Looking back, we can understand how we, too, are included. As they slept in booths, He brought them/us out the first night. The Book of Exodus tells us they journeyed to a place called Sukkot on the first night, which commemorates the place called Sukkot. The Talmud speaks of the covering of the cloud—The Clouds of Glory. A pillar of cloud is our protection!

Genesis reminds us that Jacob left Laban’s house and the first night he slept, he built booths for his cattle—sukkahs. Like Jacob, he left a form of slavery under Laban and had lots of cattle. The Torah states an accounting of four hundred and thirty years that the Israelites endured slavery in Egypt. Before Elokim delivered them out of Egypt they had a “settling down.” In Egypt, they had shelter, a home, and they knew when their next meal was. After they left to go to Sukkot everything changed. They had no plans or knew what to expect. They had to learn how to trust G-d. They had their own choices, yes, but not wise discernment. Exodus tells us they ate unleavened bread as they had no time to take provisions. They had Matzah—this connects Pesach! ONE NIGHT—TWO Holidays (Pesach and Sukkot).

The first night they realized they were no longer slaves of Egypt while sleeping under their Booths. The act of faith brings us to a new level—trusting G-d for everything! He saw the efforts they made to follow Hashem, and His kind response stirred to give the Children safe protection and provisions. Sukkot teaches us that Hashem is our true Provider, and His covering is for our Shelter to dwell in. The Children of Israel lived in “booths” for forty years [in the wilderness] with high temperatures. G-d provided a cloud covering, water, and manna. Their sandals and clothing never wore out.

Sukkot is a seven-day celebration, and the eighth day is a High Sabbath, as is the first day. The number eight implies a type of “New Beginnings. The Orthodox Jews observe the first two days and the last two days of Sukkot, followed by Hoshanah Rabbah, Shemini Atzeret, and Simchat Torah. We are to observe Hashem’s festivals by building a Sukkah and waving the Four Kinds.

Hoshanah Rabbah is celebrated on the seventh day of Sukkot. Hoshanah Rabbah completes the seven-day festival of Sukkot (but there’s the eighth day), and the completion of the days of Judgment finalizes our fate for the following year. The days are issued during Rosh Hashanah and completed [for us] on Yom Kippur. One might say our fate is now sealed for what is determined the following year. During Sukkot, there is a judgment on the amount of rain that’ll be given during the next year. (Talmud “Rosh HaShanah” 16a)

Hashem is calling for us:

“To be sure, they seek Me daily, Eager to learn My ways. Like a nation that does what is right, That has not abandoned the laws of its G-d, They ask Me for the right way, They are eager for the nearness of G-d.” (Isaiah 58:2)[6]

We are to take the “willow” as if this was a willow ceremony dated back to the Ancient Bible times when our prophets took an additional willow on Sukkot on the seventh day. They were very large willow branches (eighteen feet each) and were set around the altar in the Holy Temple for Sukkot every day. The “Four Kinds” were included in the ancient ceremony.

During the synagogue services on Hoshanah Rabbah, the people who stand around the bimah (Torah reading table) hold the Torah after it’s taken from the Ark. The congregation circles the Torah seven times while holding on to their Four Kinds; reciting the Hoshaanot prayers. The ones who circle seven times conclude with gathering the bundle of the five willows; striking the ground five times symbolizes our sins. No matter how hard we beat the lulav on the ground to remove its leaves, it isn’t easy to do. This is symbolic to our sins and how hard it can be to remove our sins without G-d’s help. There’s a huge mess left. This reminds us how much we need our Hashem to remove our sins. Everyone (men, women, and children) are encouraged to participate in the celebration. In the synagogues, the whole Book of Deuteronomy and Psalms are read (at midnight), followed with more prayers. After services, they continue to celebrate with a festive dinner in their sukkahs with honey cake for dessert. Because of Diaspora, eating in the sukkah includes the eighth day—Shemini Atzeret.

Shemini Atzeret is a joyous time celebrating the end of Sukkot in diaspora (exiled lands). Shemini Atzeret is known by its Biblical name in the Tanach. (Leviticus 23:33-44, 2 Chronicles 7) Though we still dwell in our sukkah, the first night has no blessing. It’s a memorial for the departed souls. The prayer, Yizkor is said the first night. Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah are celebrated on the eighth day. It is customary to light a small “yahrtzeit” candle while reciting the Yizkor on Shemini Atzeret to pray for our deceased parent(s).

The blessings are given as the annual Torah readings to commemorate Sukkot. The first two nights are both celebrated with the lighting of the candles (women and girls light the candles), reciting the appropriate blessings (Kiddush), festive meals, dancing, and by not working. It is permissible to cook as long as it’s not on the Shabbat. Simchat Torah celebrates the conclusion and the restart of the Torah readings that goes back to Genesis—the rolling back of the Torah. The combination of the two days (Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah) is called “YOM TOV”—a major holiday when most work ceases. The Shemini Atzeret prayer commemorates the rain Hashem sends to Israel, and the Yizkor prayer gives thanks and praise to Hashem for His mercy to remember the souls departed. The highlight of Simchat Torah reminds us to have “Joy of the Torah!” Remember to light the candles before sunset on the first night, and just after sunset the second night. The ninth day is finished with Havdalah.

Simchat Torah, during the celebration, Synagogues bring out the Torah as it’s held in dance, marching, and song. It is customary for every man to participate in the celebration and to Aliyah. There are two definitions for Aliyah. One, the honor of being called up to recite one of the blessings over the Torah, and the other is immigration to the Land of Israel. It is an honor for every man to be called up to read the blessings of the Torah. The children are also encouraged to Aliyah—give blessings over the Torah.

While living in exile, a synagogue may not be possible to attend depending on the location one resides at. Hashem honors those who do their best at home; blessing Hashem, his wife and children, taking part in the Readings of Torah, home service (meeting with like kind) and study. Hopefully, there is a way to move into a Jewish community. There are many who live in exile wait for the call of Hashem to Aliyah to Israel.

The Sukkah (booths): Let’s celebrate the amazing miracle of the Exodus remembering our faithful and Righteous G-d who delivered the Israelites, and the mixed multitude, from the harsh and crushing slavery of the Egypt! The sukkah (booths) celebrates the Clouds of Glory that protected and surrounded our ancestors during the forty years of sojourning in the wilderness; completely relying on G-d’s provisions leaving Egypt.

(Leviticus 23:42-43) Jews, and non-Jews, build sukkahs that are temporary dwellings to commemorate Sukkot. Sukkot is celebrated by eating and sleeping in a sukkah during the week of Sukkot. Many live in colder regions in which it may not be possible to sleep or eat in a sukkah. It’s important to remember that if one can’t build a sukkah (perhaps it’s against rental/leased homes policies, or health reasons), Hashem will be honored to see us trying our best to please Him during the appointed times.

In the Sukkah, we can read from our holy scriptures, share devotionals, and invite guests (Ushpizin) for a meal. The gathering of people will give more opportunities to share what an amazing G-d we have. If there are children or adults who have special needs, or elderly parents with health issues that would cause suffering to sleep outside on the ground, there are other ways to show chesed—loving-kindness. For example, we can play beautiful Hebrew music, tell the Exodus Story, and help them build mini sukkahs—to eat! That’s right! All one needs is a box of Graham crackers, M&M’s (trademark), or other colorful candies, green frosting, and a whole lot of fun! Place three squares together; using frosting for the glue. Spread green frosting along the top (roof) and let the decorating begin!

The Sukkah is generally made of wood or bamboo with at least three sides. The roof should have some clearing that allow the stars to be seen during the nights. Palm leaves, or other greenery can be placed along the top that allows some coverage and shade during the day.

If a kosher sukkah is desired: There are important factors to be considered before building a kosher sukkah (Instructions can be found at http://www.chabad.org).

May your week of Sukkot be a blessing!

Shalom!

[1] Leviticus 23:24. Sefaria

[2] Leviticus 23:22-44, Sefaria

[3] Deuteronomy 31:10-13, Sefaria

[4] Psalms 118:14-15, Sefaria

[5] Exodus 15:1-2, Sefaria

[6] Isaiah 58:2, Sefaria

 

 

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