What is Sukkot 2017? Why do we still celebrate this holiday? Sukkot is a autumn harvest festival holiday lasting a week, and once served as an ingathering at the Temple where sacrifices were made. It is the third of three pilgrimage festivals, Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot. The word sukkot means “huts” and remembers the temporary dwellings the Israelites lived in while in the Wilderness.
We see the instructions for celebrating this holiday in Leviticus 23:33-43 and in Deuteronomy 16:13-17.
For forty years the Israelites wandered the Wilderness. But it was not just a journey or wandering, it was a period of growth through moral and legal instruction. It was a time when the Israelites developed a relationship with G-d. During Sukkot we remember that time and rejoice in the establishment of that relationship.
How do we celebrate Sukkot?
This question is really the same question as ‘what is Sukkot 2016.’
We begin by building the Sukkah. Jews often start building the Sukkah the day after Yom Kippur. The commandment states, “in juts you are to stay for seven days.” However detailed law only comes with the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds. The Talmud states we must eat, drink, and sleep in this structure.
However, if you live in a very cold place prohibit you from these commandments. In those situations, the minimum requirement is to eat some bread.
The sukkah must be a temporary structure built in an open space. It is must have at least three side. Today, many sukkot are four sides. The roof is called sekhakh and has to be made from cut vegetation. The roof also has to obscure the sun, but still show the stars at night.
The Four Species
The three pilgrimage festivals represent and make up the relationship between the Jewish people and G-d. Passover commemorates the beginning of nationhood as G-d delivered the Jewish people from bondage. Shavuot remembers G-d giving the Law to the Jewish people. And during Sukkot we celebrate G-d’s physical gifts to the Jewish people.
The Four Species represent those gifts. The four species we use during Sukkot are:
- The lulav (or date palm)
- The hadas (or myrtle)
- The aravah (or willow)
- The etrog (similar to a lemon)
The lulav, hadas, and aravah are tied together to create the ceremonial lulav of Sukkot.
So what is Sukkot 2017? Sukkot 2017 is a heed to go back to the environment. Nature is packed with truly amazing wonders. There is so much to explore. It offers us food, water, places to rest, exercise, and enjoy. Sukkot is a time to remember and return back to nature. The four species help us remember that not just by putting nature in our hands. All these plants require a lot of water, reminding us the role of water in all of our lives.
Guests during the holidays
Hosting and having guests during the holiday is very important during Sukkot. There is a specific custom during Sukkot called Ushpizin, during which the average guests are not invited. We invite and ask very special ones come into the Sukkah.
Some families invite these people chronologically, while others invite them according to their sefirah (ten emanations of G-d in Kabbalah). Who are these guests?
- Abraham (known for loving-kindness)
- Isaac (known for power)
- Jacob (known for splendor)
- Moses (known for eternality)
- Aaron (known for glory)
- Joseph (known for foundation)
- David (known for kingship)
Prayer during Sukkot
Most of the prayer during Sukkot is the same as other prayers. But one tradition that is special during the holiday is reciting Psalm 118 while shaking the Lulav in a pattern emphasizing the words. The psalm states:
“ Rejoice in the Lord for G-d is good; G-d’s kindness endures forever.”
While reciting the prayer, we shake the lulav first to the front, then to the right, followed by shaking to the back. We shake the lulav to the left, then up, and finally down.
We read Leviticus 22:26- 23:44 on the first two days of Sukkot. The haftarah during the first day is Zechariah 14:1- 21. This passages stress that Sukkot is a universal holiday, and a thanksgiving prayer for all that we have.
What is Sukkot 2017? Sukkot is Jewish Thanksgiving!
During the middle days of Sukkot four people read from the Torah in front of the congregation. All four readings are from the portion of Pinchas. But the last of the middle days of Sukkot is a very special day. It is called Hoshanah Rabbah. Since the Middle Ages it has been described as the last possible date on which we get a “good note” in the Book of Life. To achieve this, 16th century Kabbalists wrote a very special service for this day.
A popular superstition came out of this practice:
If a person does not see his or her shadow on the night of Hoshana Rabbah, it is a sign that s/he will die in the coming year.
One more practice for the Holiday of Sukkot:
On each day of Sukkot, except Shabbat, the congregation circles the sanctuary while holding the lulav and etrog and reciting the Hoshanot prayers. On Hoshana Rabbah, all the Torah Scrolls are taken out.
This practice is inspired by Joshua’s circling Jericho, including seven times on the last day before battle.
So what is Sukkot 2017 in terms of prayer? Many of the prayers recite during Sukkot are a kind of thanksgiving. Today we live in a world where things are so fast- paced, so quick and immediate that we forget what it takes to make the products we need.
That meal we ordered last night with our friends? Someone had to make each individual product in that meal. And someone had to ship it to the restaurant. Someone had to assemble the meal exactly how you want it. And someone had to bring it to your table just at the right time. The same goes for the newest gadget you just bought, or the train you took to work/ home/ going out to have a good time.
Sukkot is about taking the time to be thankful for the things we have on a daily basis. That’s a very special opportunity to have.
Shemini Atzeret means “eighth day of the solemn assembly.” It is two things at once: On the one hand it is a festival of its own, but on the other hand it is a conclusion to Sukkot. Leviticus 23:36 and Numbers 29:35 describe the holiday.
The service on Shemini Atzeret has two special liturgies: the Priestly Blessing and the Geshem (the prayer for rain).
In Israel, Shemini Atzeret and the holiday Simchat Torah land on the same day. However, for Jewish communities outside of Israel the two days follow one another for there is an extra day of Sukkot outside of Israel. Why? Tradition says that it took an extra day to get the word out the holiday was over. Some holidays, including Sukkot, remember that by adding an extra day.
Conclusion: What is Sukkot 2017?
What is Sukkot 2017? I have offered a few answers to that question above. It is a time to return to nature. It is a time to give thanks.
But I also think it is something else. We have just finished a very powerful and important holiday season. Rosh HaShanah is the Jewish New Year. On Rosh HaShanah, G-d opens the the Books of Life and Death. We are judged based off everything we have done the past year. We then have ten days to ask forgiveness from the people we have sinned against and hurt. And just when we take a moment to breath we arrive to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. A holiday sealing those very Books opened just ten days ago.
What is Sukkot 2017? Sukkot makes us take a step back after all of this, and realize how lucky we really are. Sukkot gives us a time to take a breath and relax a bit.
So have a very happy Sukkot everyone!!!