The Time of Our Rejoicing!
Sukkot is a seven day festival which begins on the 15th of day of the Jewish month of Tishri. In contrast to Yom Kippur, the festival of Sukkot is the most joyous of the three biblically mandated festivals. In holiday prayers Sukkot is given the name, Z'man Simchateinu, "The Time of Our Rejoicing!" Indeed a special joy pervades this festival.
Sukkot has two aspects: historical and agricultural. Historically, Sukkot is in remembrance of the forty-year period of wandering after the Exodus. Thus the word Sukkot means 'huts' or 'booths' referring to the temporary homes the Israelites lived in during their time in the desert. Agriculturally, Sukkot is the autumn harvest festival. Sukkot is sometimes referred to as Chag ha'Asif, the Festival of Ingathering, in reference to Deuteronomy 16:13-15. After the harvest, the Festival of Booths is held and G-d will bless the crop and give the farmers joy.
Leviticus 23:39-43 prescribes the ways we observe Sukkot: with rest on the first and last days of the seven day festival, with the Four Species, and with the Sukkah (booth).
The Four Species, Arba'at Ha-Minim in Hebrew, consists or an etrog, a lulav, hadass, and aravah. In English this would be a citron fruit, closed palm frond, myrtle bough and a willow branch. We are commanded to take these four plants and rejoice before G-d. The branches are bound together in a special way with palm leaves. The etrog is held seperately next to the branches. Once the Four Species are bound, the whole assemblage is simply known as the Lulav. With your Lulav in hand, now comes the fun part - the na'anuim - the shaking. The Lulav is shaken everyday except for Shabbat. A blessing is recited while waving the species in all six directions (east, south, west, north, up and down); this proclaims the fact that G-d is everywhere. You can put your own groove into shaking the Lulav and really get into it.
The other mitzvah unique to Sukkot is dwelling in the Sukkah. The sukkah commemorates the Clouds of Glory which surrounded and protected our ancestors during the forty-year desert sojourn which followed the Egyptian Exodus. Our willingness to leave the security of our homes and spend a week in a flimsy outdoor hut demonstrates our faith in G-d and His benevolence.
Families begin to build their Sukkah the day after Yom Kippur to ensure that it is ready by Sukkot. The sukkah must have at least two and a half walls covered with a material that will not blow away in the wind. The roof, called s'chach in Hebrew, must be of unprocessed materials which have grown from the ground. A sukkah may be any size, so long as it is large enough for you to fulfill the commandment of dwelling in it. It is common practice, and highly commendable, to decorate the sukkah. You can decorate it anyway you like - with seasonal plants, childrens' artwork, homemade crafts - just make it homey.
For eight days (and perhaps seven nights) make the sukkah your home. However, for those who live in cold, rainy, or even dangerous environments, don't panic! While it can be fun and satisfying to sleep in your sukkah, it is not necessary. You should try to take as many meals in the sukkah as possible. Additionally, you should also try include other activates you would normally do in the house, such as reading, visiting with friends and kids' playing.
At Sukkot we look beyond the walls of our homes and all the stuff we have accumulated. We sit in the sukkah with our friends, our family and our G-d without the distraction of television, computers or telephones. We eat, we celebrate, we connect and we pray. In the coming days as we sit outside in our sukkahs amongst G-d's earth, may we be inspired in this New Year to reach both towards G-d and deep within our hearts to do good works and be righteous souls.
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