סֻכּוֹת

 su-kot

Five days after Yom Kippur comes the Festival of Sukkot, one of the Three Pilgrimage Festivals which are known as Shalosh Regalim.  (See Lev. 23:33–44 & Exod. 23:14–16.)  Sukkot means “booths,” and refers to the booths that the Children of Israel dwelled in during their forty-year journey from Egypt to the Promised Land.  The Festival of Sukkot, also known as the “Feast of Tabernacles” and the “Time of Our Joy,” is a seven-day celebration in which we build a temporary shelter called a sukkah (sukkot in plural), decorated with leaves and fruit.  For each of the seven days of this Festival, we are to eat our meals in the sukkah, and, if possible, we can sleep in it as well.  By dwelling in a sukkah, we are reminded of the “Clouds of Glory” which protected the Children of Israel in the wilderness.

The sukkah is symbolic of the chuppah (wedding canopy), as Sukkot is the marriage between the Jewish people and God.

The Festival of Sukkot is also known as the “Festival of Ingathering,” as it was the time when the final harvest was gathered from the field.

Another observance during Sukkot is to take what is called the “Four Species” (Arba Minim) and “rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days” (Lev. 23:40).  The Four Species of Sukkot are:

  • etrog – yellow citron
  • lulav – palm branch
  • three hadassim – myrtle branches
  • two aravot – willow branches

Since the lulav (palm branch) is the most distinguished of the four, the Four Species is sometimes referred to as the lulav or the lulav and etrog.”  While facing east, the Four Species are held together, a blessing is recited, and the species are waved in six directions (to signify that God is everywhere).  When it comes to the sequence in which to wave the Four Species, there are different customs.  One custom is to face east and wave the Four Species three times in the following directions: east, south, west, north, up, and down.  Another custom is to face east and wave the Four Species three times in the following directions: south, north, east, up, down, and west.

On each day of Sukkot, special prayers called Hoshanot are recited—there are seven in all.  Hoshanot is derived from the phrase Hosha na, meaning “please bring salvation.”  A Torah scroll is taken out of the Ark in the synagogue and brought to the bimah (table in a synagogue from which the Torah is read).  One member of the congregation holds the Torah scroll, while the rest of the congregation makes a circle around them while holding the Four Species close to their hearts and reciting the appropriate Hoshana prayer.  This encirclement is called hakafah (hakafot in plural).  (On Shabbat, these customs vary.)

Sukkot is a seven-day observance which begins on the evening of October 4th this year and lasts until the evening of October 11th (Tishrei 15–21 on the Hebrew calendar).

A traditional greeting for this day is: Chag Same’ach (Happy Holiday)!

34…On the fifteenth day of this seventh month is the feast of tabernacles for seven days unto the Lord 42Ye shall dwell in booths seven days; all that are home-born in Israel shall dwell in booths; 43that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel to dwell in booths, when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.

(JPS 1917, Lev. 23:34, 42–43)