What is Sukkot and Sukkah? Complete Jewish Holiday Guide

The streets are filled with beautiful and colorful ornaments, the scent of citrus and Etrog fills the air, and a festive atmosphere captivates all, Sukkot, or Feast of Tabernacles, is a joyful and special holiday in Tishrei.

Holiday Origin

Being the last of the Shalosh R’galim, similarly to Passover and Shavuot, Sukkot has an agricultural and historical significance. Firstly, we celebrate Sukkot, build a Sukkah and dwell in it during the holiday in remembrance of the 40 years our ancestors were wandering the desert after leaving Egypt. Wandering in an unknown land, living in temporary shelter, we built a Sukkah, share it with our loved ones to remember and cherish our history.

…On the fifteenth day of this seventh month is the Festival of Sukkot, seven days for the L-RD. -Leviticus 23:34

Sukkot is also the holiday of Harvest, or in Hebrew Chag Ha’Asif, festival of ingathering. During this holiday we rejoice and show our gratitude for the bounty of this land.

Sukkot Customs

Build a Sukkah

Sukkah, in English is translated to ‘hut’ or ‘booth’, for seven days we are to dwell in a temporary construction, topped with wooden branches as roof, and have all our meals in it. The Sukkah is symbol to the temporary shelters our ancestors lived in after the Exodus from Egypt. Building and decorating the Sukkah is a treat and enjoyable time for the entire family. The children can craft paper ornaments, while the parents put it together.

When building a Sukkah, note these two guidelines:

  • A sukkah has to have at least three walls. Only one can be an existing wall, like the side of a house. The walls may be constructed of any material, generally canvas, wood or metal. Today, it is possible to buy ready-to-assemble sukkah kits.
  • The roof has to be of temporary nature, covered with loose branches from trees or anything of the ground, and has been cut off from the ground.

Ushpizin

Building the Sukkah allows us to open our hearts and homes to others, accept them with love and through this Mitzvah draw near to God and accept the gift of Ushpizin.

Taking of the Four Kinds

The week before Sukkot, the streets and Judaica stores are filled with the Four Species: an etrog (citron), a lulav (palm frond), three hadassim (myrtle twigs) and two aravot (willow twigs). On each day of the festival (excluding Shabbat), we take the Four Kinds, recite a blessing over them, bring them together in our hands and wave them in all six directions: right, left, forward, up, down and backward, symbolizing that God can be found in all these directions. According to the sages in the midrash, the Four Kinds represent the various personalities that comprise the community of Israel, whose intrinsic unity we celebrate on Sukkot.  

Symbolism of 4 species

Lulav: has taste, but not smell to symbolize those who know the traditions, but don’t practice them.

Hadass: tasteless without smell, symbolizing those who do good deeds, but have no knowledge of Judaism.

Aravah: has neither taste nor smell, symbolizing those who never study the Torah nor ever do good deeds.

Etrog: Rich in smell and taste to symbolize those who know the traditions of Judaism and apply them in life.

These four species, different and unique, just as the Jewish people, different, but when together we are one. This is the Mitzvah of Sukkot, coming together, despite our differences.
Let’s come together, rejoice and become 1, this Sukkot and every day!
 
Builiding a Sukkah in your backyard or near your synagogue? Check our article on 5 amazing Sukkah decoration ideas before! Right immediately after Sukkot are Simchat Torah and Shemini Atzeret, learn all about these Jewish occasions in our next article.

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