Sukkot -- the most joyous Jewish Holiday
Four days following the most solemn Jewish holiday, we begin Sukkot, perhaps the most joyous holiday of the year. Hence it is commonly said at this time “Zeman Simhateynu” meaning-- the time of joy. Sukkot is both a historical and an agricultural celebration that begins on the 15th of Tishrei, and lasts for 7 days. This year Sukkot Eve falls on October 1st at sundown and ends on October 8th.
Sukkot is the plural form of the Hebrew word Sukkah used to describe the temporary shelters or booths that are significant to Jews historically and religiously. While dwelling in a Sukkah, we are reminded of the Israelites’ Exodus from Egypt and the forty-year period during which they wandered the desert. It also reminds us of the first harvests in the land of Israel, a piece of agricultural history that describes the practices of the ancient Israeli farmers. The Sukka’s purpose originally was to provide shade and allow the farmers to spend more time in the fields, harvesting their food. Other names that have been used for this holiday are: “Shalosh Regalim” -- The Pilgrimage Festival, “Hag Ha-Assif” -- The Harvest Festival, or even the “Thanksgiving Holiday”. Today, however, in contemporary society the holiday of Sukkot provides a slightly different function.
Everything we do in Judaism has a purpose. Today, holiday traditions especially serve to remind us of where we came from and for what we stand for. Building a Sukkah, eating in the Sukkah and waving the Lulav & Etrog are three major traditions associated with Sukkot. The Lulav and Etrog represent the Four Species. It is made of three myrtle twigs, two willow twigs and a palm frond attached together at the bottom. The Etrog is a kind of citron that looks like a big, bumpy lemon. The Four Species are waved in each of the four directions to symbolically represent that G-D’s presence is everywhere we go.
The Israelites were instructed to create these shelters in order to be secured and have a place to rest, but they were also warned of the insecure nature of these temporary shelters. Similarly, the Sukkah reminds us today that everything in our existence is impermanent, and that the forces of nature and G-D can destroy anything, including our homes, regardless of whether it is made in time of steel or straw. It likewise reminds us that because our habitat in this world is temporary, at any given moment we must be prepared to evacuate and relocate due to unpredictable rainstorms, earthquakes, tsunamis or any other unavoidable force of nature that we must contend with.
The Israelites wandered for forty years to reach the land of Israel, even though it should have taken them only forty days. Our sages explain that it was an educational experience and not just a physical journey. Moses spent all of his life as a leader, teaching his people the Torah’s laws, as well as how to become free before entering the Promised Land. The message of freedom (both physical and mental) and observance of laws have impacted Jewish people from generation to generation ever since. It has helped to keep us free, even when at times it seemed impossible.
You see, by celebrating Sukkot, we are cherishing a historical, agricultural tradition that is loaded with meaningful customs, morals and values. Our job is to pass it on to the next generation. So, in keeping with tradition, Hebrew classes at JSN this week are held in beneath our beautiful Sukkah! While decorating, having a harvest snack, or learning Hebrew in this unique and special place, the students are engaged in great learning experience; both learning alot and having fun in the process. Please see the attached pictures!
The Jewish month of Tishrei is indeed a very busy month. We begin the year with Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but now for the next week we are celebrating Sukkot. Please be sure to check out the forthcoming article on the two important holidays that follow Sukkot: Shemini Artzeret and Simchat Torah.
Happy Sukkot to all of you!
Director and Founder of JSN
To learn about JSN, please visit us at: http://www.jsnbynomie.com