Sukkot: Unity Under a
Roof of Branches
Sukkot is the first of the Three Pilgrimage Festivals to occur in the Jewish year. Like all the Pilgrimage Festivals it has agricultural and religious significance. Both aspects of this holiday emphasize unity: being together as One People of God.
But first, a little Sukkot basics. The name “Sukkot” is the plural form of the word “sukkah” which is a outdoor temporary structure. Each year for Sukkot we build a sukkah near our homes. The sukkah must have at least three full walls constructed in a way to not blow away. The roof is meant to give shade, but not be solid. It must be made of cut vegetative material that are left loose and set sparsely enough to let rain in and ideally to see the night stars. While the sukkah can be any size, it must be large enough for the entire family and guests to comfortably sit.
The significance of the sukkah reflects both aspects of the holiday. Primary it commemorates the time after the Exodus when the Chosen People spent time wandering the desert and living in temporary dwellings as they awaited the Promised Land. It also is representative of the temporary structures farmers built to live in while they harvested their crops.
The agriculture nature of the holiday is found in Exodus 34:22 and referred to the “Feast of the Ingathering.” It is at this point that all fruits are harvested and the agricultural year is complete. It is a time for great rejoicing bringing together all the people and the crops in the area. The holiday also utilizes something called the Four Species.
The more elaborate part of the holiday is focused on the Israelites’ time in the wilderness. This can be found in Leviticus 23:42-43. In this we see the sukkah as a symbolic demonstration of our faith. When we dwell in the sukkah it encompasses us entirely, the whole being of ourselves, as well as our family and our visitors. Yet, it is a temporary structure, with a roof made loosely of branches.
It represents that our faith that God will take care of us even in not ideal circumstances as long as we surround ourselves with His Spirit. The sukkah, encompasses us entirely, our whole being – physically, emotionally, spiritually – just as faith in God does. Additionally, as a temporary dwelling, the sukkah represents how fragile all existence is, and Sukkot is a time to appreciate the shelter of our homes, our family, and our God.
The sukkah surrounds its visitors in unison. In this way, the sukkah reveals the simple and beautiful oneness of a people rooted in the oneness of their Creator. When all of God’s faithful dwells in their sukkot, it is as it we are joined together in a single sukkah and our unity transcends our differences.