Isn’t our tradition amazing–a gift that keeps on giving! If you thought we completed the holiday season with the sounding of Tekiyah Gedolah from the shofar at the close of Yom Kippur, there’s actually more. We are only just beginning another round of amazing holidays!
Five days after Yom Kippur, Sukkot begins. Sukkot is the plural of Sukkah, which is the booth or “hut” we build right after Yom Kippur. We then spend lots of joyous time in the Sukkah during a week-long festive celebration.
Historically, our ancestors constructed similar sukkot during their forty year journey through the desert after being enslaved under Pharaoh, and the Exodus from Egypt that followed. Sukkot is also a harvest festival and is one of three great pilgrimage festivals during the Jewish year (Pesach and Shavuot being the other two).
In modern times, we commemorate the experience of wandering in the wilderness, and the great harvest pilgrimage that came during Temple times, by erecting a sukkah of our own. We spend lots of time in these somewhat flimsy, temporary dwellings. There are many details about how to construct the sukkah–primarily that it has at least three sides and a leafy rooftop that provides some protection, but also has enough openness to see the nighttime stars.
So what do we actually do in the Sukkah? Well, pretty much anything we would do inside our homes–share meals, read, play games, visit with friends, meditate, do art, attend a zoom session (I’ve done plenty of these), and even sleep through the night! We also welcome in our ushpizin, our ancestors to dwell along with us in the Sukkah.
But that’s not all–there’s even more! During Sukkot, we have a wonderful tradition of gathering together four species of plants (arba minim) which include palm, myrtle, willow, and etrog (citron). We raise and shake these four species in all directions. There are many interesting interpretations for what these species represent and why we wave them all around. Perhaps the most well known is acknowledging that the Divine Presence is with us, within us, and all around us.
There’s so much more to say about Sukkot, only having scratched the surface here. One key take-away is that Sukkot is referred to as Z’man Simchateynu, the Season or Time of our Joy. Dwelling in the Sukkah reminds us of what is important in our lives, the simple and essential things–friends, family, shared meals, remembering our ancestors. The fragility of this temporary shelter points to the urgency and poignancy of these things. The time is now to give our attention to these things.
Chag Sukkot Sameach!