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An introduction to Sukkot

The holiday of Sukkot is one of the most engaging and rewarding of the Jewish calendar. A celebration of harvest, it invites us to experience the sensual pleasures of nature’s colors, scents and textures.

It explores the paradox that to find your way home, sometimes you must leave it. After the transcendance and inward vision of the Yom Kippur fast and worship, Sukkot brings us the message: Forget the house, what makes our spirit feel at home is the family gathered together around a table, even if the roof leaks and the wind threatens to blow down the walls. For one week we move out of our comfortable houses into a temporary hut, a sukkah, made of wood or cloth and covered with leaves or branches, there to experience, by comparison, what we have that is truly solid. 

Sukkot is a harvest festival, recalling the booths of ancient Jewish farmers. It is also the tail of the cycle of historical holidays, following Passover (the exodus) and Shavuot (the giving of the Torah), Sukkot enables us to reenact the wandering in the Sinai desert - a time that has been seen as a Golden Age, when the Jewish people were directly under God's protection, fed by manna and sheltered by clouds of Glory. 

The abundance is felt in the holiday's sensory richness - the color and smells not only of the sukkah's leaves and wood, but of the holiday's other ritual, the biblical commandment to take in hand four kinds of plant. The "Four Species" include the lulav (palm frond), hadas (myrtle sprigs), aravah (willow branches), and the etrog (citron). 

On this topic:
About Sukkot 
Lulav and etrog 
A sukkah of your own 
Traditional foods 

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About Sukkot

 

Sukkot (Feast of the Tabernacles), is celebrated for seven days - from the 15-21 of the Hebrew month of Tishri. Arriving five days after Yom Kippur, at the time of the autumn full moon, it is immediately followed by Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah on Tishri 22-23. The first one or two days [note:] are, like the Sabbath, days to refrain from work. On the remaining days, known as hol hamo'ed, the ritual of sukkah and lulav are observed. The holiday is ushered in with the lighting of two candles and reciting of the blessing.

In the sukkah, the festival blessing over wine (Kiddush) is chanted, followed by the Shehe'heyanu blessing and a special blessing for sitting in the sukkah. It is Jewish practice to eat as many meals as possible in the sukkah and to recite the blessing over the Four Species every day in the sukkah (except on Shabbat). 

Shaking the lulav

The myrtle and willow are tied together around the palm frond, and all four are held closely while a blessing is recited.

Various explanations have been given for the Four Species. According to one, the etrog represents the heart, the lulav represents the spine, the myrtles suggest the eyes, and the willows symbolize the lips and mouth. In shaking all elements together and reciting the blessing, we indicate that we are serving God and expressing our gratitude, with every fiber of our being. According to another, the Four Species together represent the hope that types of Jews who, different as they are, may be unified as one 

 
Related:
Resource: Centering yourself by waving the lulav - a meditation 
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A Sukkah of your own

The centerpiece of Sukkot, and the origin of its name, is the sukkah, a temporary outdoor structure with a roof made of branches. The holiday meals are eaten in the sukkah (barring rain or snow) and some people even sleep in it - particularly in Israel. It is also customary to recite the benediction over the "Four Species" while inside the sukkah.

It is customary to decorate the inside of the sukkah with branches, flowers, fruit, plaques with biblical verses. 

Another beautiful custom is to decorate the sukkah with names and depictions of the seven righteous ancestors of the Jewish nation: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph and David- who are "invited" as special guests (ushpizin) to every family's sukkah.  

Related:
Resource: Mishpacha guide to building or buying a sukkah 
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Traditional foods

  • stuffed cabbage and kreplach (fried pockets of dough) filled with fruit or vegetables 
  • dishes made with honey and fruit (such as tsimmes - potatoes with carrots, prunes and honey) 
  • sweet pastries (taiglokh made with honey). 

 

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