Feast of Tabernacles, or Sukkot
The Festival of Sukkot begins on Tishri 15, the fifth day after Yom Kippur.
It is quite a drastic transition, from one of the most solemn holidays in
our year to one of the most joyous. This festival is sometimes referred to
as Zeman Simkhateinu, the Season of our Rejoicing. Sukkot lasts for seven
days. The two days following the festival are separate holidays, Shemini Atzeret
and Simkhat Torah, but are commonly thought of as part of Sukkot. The word
"Sukkot" means "booths," and refers to the temporary dwellings that we are
commanded to live in during this holiday. The name of the holiday is frequently
translated "The Feast of Tabernacles," which, like many translations of technical
Jewish terms, isn't terribly useful unless you already know what the term
is referring to. The Hebrew pronunciation of Sukkot is "Sue COAT," but is
often pronounced as in Yiddish, to rhyme with "BOOK us."
Like Passover and Shavu'ot, Sukkot has a dual significance: historical and
agricultural. The holiday commemorates the forty-year period during which
the children of Israel were wandering in the desert, living in temporary shelters.
Sukkot is also a harvest festival, and is sometimes referred to as Chag Ha-Asif,
the Festival of Ingathering. The festival of Sukkot is instituted in Leviticus
23:33 et seq. No work is permitted on the first and second days of the holiday.
Work is permitted on the remaining days. These intermediate days on which
work is permitted are referred to as Chol Ha-Mo'ed, as are the intermediate
days of Passover.
In honor of the holiday's historical significance, we are commanded to dwell
in temporary shelters, as our ancestors did in the wilderness. The commandment
to "dwell" in a sukkah can be fulfilled by simply eating all of one's meals
there; however, if the weather, climate, and one's health permit, one should
live in the sukkah as much as possible, including sleeping in it.
A sukkah must have at least three walls covered with a material that will
not blow away in the wind. Canvas covering tied or nailed down is acceptable
and quite common in the United States. A sukkah may be any size, so long as
it is large enough for you to fulfill the commandment of dwelling in it. The
roof of the sukkah must be made of material referred to as sekhakh (literally,
covering). To fulfill the commandment, sekhakh must be something that grew
from the ground and was cut off, such as tree branches, corn stalks, bamboo
reeds, sticks, or two-by-fours. Sekhakh must be left loose, not tied together
or tied down. Sekhakh must be placed sparsely enough that rain can get in,
and preferably sparsely enough that the stars can be seen, but not so sparsely
that more than ten inches is open at any point or that there is more light
than shade. The sekhakh must be put on last.
It is common practice, and highly commendable, to decorate the sukkah. In
the northeastern United States, Jews commonly hang dried squash and corn in
the sukkah to decorate it, because these vegetables are readily available
at that time for the American holidays of Halloween and Thanksgiving. Building
and decorating a sukkah is a fun, family project, much like decorating the
Christmas tree is for Christians. It is a sad commentary on modern American
Judaism that most of the highly assimilated Jews who complain about being
deprived of the fun of having and decorating a Christmas tree have never even
heard of Sukkot.
Many Americans, upon seeing a decorated sukkah for the first time, remark
on how much the sukkah (and the holiday generally) reminds them of Thanksgiving.
This is not entirely coincidental. Our American pilgrims, who originated the
Thanksgiving holiday, were deeply religious people. When they were trying
to find a way to express their thanks for their survival and for the harvest,
they looked to the Bible for an appropriate way of celebrating and based their
holiday in part on Sukkot.
Another observance related to Sukkot involves what are known as The Four
Species (arba minim in Hebrew) or the lulav and etrog. We are commanded to
take these four plants and use them to "rejoice before the L-rd." The four
species in question are an etrog (a citrus fruit native to Israel), a palm
branch (in Hebrew, lulav), two willow branches (arava) and three myrtle branches
(hadas). The six branches are bound together and referred to collectively
as the lulav. The etrog is held separately. With these four species in hand,
one recites a blessing and waves the species in all six directions (east,
south, west, north, up and down, symbolizing the fact that G-d is everywhere).
The four species are also held during the Hallel prayer in religious services,
and are held during processions around the bimah (the pedestal where the Torah
is read) each day during the holiday. These processions commemorate similar
processions around the alter of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem. The processions
are known as Hoshanahs, because while the procession is made, we recite a
prayer with the refrain, "Hosha na!" (please save us!). On the seventh day
of Sukkot, seven circuits are made. For this reason, the seventh day of Sukkot
is known as Hoshanah Rabbah (the great Hoshanah).
Introduction to Sukkot
Sukkot is a holiday rich in tradition and meaning. From the holding of the
Lulav and etrog to the sitting in a Sukkah, the holiday is filled with symbolism
to express our relationship to G-d. Sukkot comes just five short days following
Yom Kippur. The timing is not accidental. Only after we have reached a new
level of purity and atonement on Yom Kippur, can we then be truly joyous on
Sukkot. Indeed, there is a special Mitzvah of Simcha, happiness, on Sukkot.
Sukkot commemorates how protective "Clouds of Glory" surrounded the Jewish
people after leaving Egypt during the forty years of wandering in the desert.
It also commemorates how the Jews lived in temporary dwellings during that
same time. So too we leave the safety and security of our houses and put ourselves
under the direct protection of G-d Almighty. His protection, in the final
analysis, is the only one that matters In Sukkot you shall dwell seven days,
every citizen in Israel they shall dwell in Sukkot, in order that your generations
shall know, that in Sukkot did I cause the children of Israel to dwell, when
I brought them forth from the land of Egypt. (Leviticus Chapter 23)
The Mitzvah of Sukkah
Eating meals, sleeping and spending time in the Sukkah is a unique religious
experience. Some have the custom of decorating the Sukkah with fancy decorations
such as fruits or New Year's cards while others prefer to preserve its unadorned
simplicity. The Sukkah is the only Mitzvah in which we are completely surrounded
by the Mitzvah itself; enveloped, as it were, in the divine presence.
The Mitzvah of Lulav and Etrog
The other well-known mitzvah which pertains to Sukkot is the mitzvah of taking
a lulav and etrog. There are actually 4 elements involved in this mitzvah
and all must be present to properly fulfil it. The four elements are etrog,
lulav, (palm branch), hadas (avot tree branch), aravah (willows of the brook).
A bracha is said on the four species everyday of Sukkot.
A Time of Hope For Universal Peace
When the Jewish people rejoice on Sukkot, our hearts go out to the whole
entire world. That means that ultimately, when G-d brings peace to the earth
it will be for all mankind. In those days of the when the Holy Temple stood
in Jerusalem, the Sukkot Festival offerings included seventy oxen, corresponding
to the seventy nations, in prayer for peace and harmony among all the nations
of the world. Other mitzvot on Sukkot include the libation of water on the
Alter (in Temple Times), the beating of the Aravah on Hoshana Rabah; and a
specific mitzvah to rejoice.
"Sukkah," the Obligation
In the Torah, it is written, "But on the fifteenth day of the Seventh Month,
when you harvest the produce of the Land, celebrate the Holiday of Hashem
for seven days... You shall stay in "Sukkot" for seven days; every resident
of Israel shall stay in "Sukkot." In order that your generations shall know
that I housed the Children of Israel in "Sukkot" when I took them out of the
Land of Egypt." (Vayikra 39: 42-43)
Our Sages have interpreted the expression "stay in" to mean "stay in your
Sukkah, temporarily, in the manner that you live in your permanent homes."
How should this be done?
Eat your meals in the Sukkah, study Torah in the Sukkah, entertain your guests
in the Sukkah, relax in the Sukkah and, very importantly, unless for some
reason you find it very uncomfortable, sleep in the Sukkah.
What type of meal is one obligated to eat in the Sukkah?
Answering the question from the reverse side, a person is not supposed to
eat an "achilat keva," a "substantial meal," outside of the Sukkah.
What is the definition of a "Seudat Keva?"
A "Seudat Keva" is a "regular meal including bread" or some "significant
other" type of eating, such as pasta or mini-pizza, chicken or meat, as opposed
to a fruit or juice snack, a cup of coffee, soda, Snapple (unless that's considered
more significant since it's made of "the best stuff on earth,") or water.
Others are careful not to eat anything outside of the Sukkah.
What blessing should be made before eating in the Sukkah?
The following blessing should be made before eating in the Sukkah: "Blessed
are You, O L-rd our G-d Who made us holy by Obligating us to perform His Commandments,
and Commanded us to Stay In the Sukkah!"
First, the "Birchat HaNehenin," is recited; afterwards, the Sukkah-related
Berachah. The Birchat HaNehenin is the blessing made before partaking of an
item in G-d's world, such as a tuna-fish sandwich (in this case, the blessing
is "HaMotzi Lechem min HaAretz," "(that G-d is the One) Who causes "bread"
to be produced from the ground." (I sometimes think that if G-d had only created
the tuna-fish for the enjoyment of Man, it would have been enough!)
When is the Obligation Strongest?
The obligation to be in the Sukkah on the first two nights of the Holiday
is the strongest (in Israel, it is only the first night). The practical difference
between the "strong" obligation and the "weaker" obligation is when it is
raining. In general one applies the principle "One who is suffering is not
obligated to eat in the Sukkah."
However, on the first night, one must make a great effort to make Kiddush
in the Sukkah and to wash "Netilat Yadayim," the washing of the hands before
the eating of a minimal amount from the "Challah." "Challah" is the special
"bread" baked for Shabbat and the Holidays. The amount to be eaten is the
size of an egg. Only thereafter may one retreat to the house, to complete
How Should One Feel in Such a Case?
Interestingly, the Talmud discusses the above question, even though one might
be tempted to dismiss it with "What do you mean, it just rained - that's all!"
Apparently, the Talmud is of the opinion that the relationship between G-d
and the Jewish People should be so close that at a time when in order to fulfill
a Command of the Torah, it is necessary for it not to rain, then we could
expect that Hashem, strange though it may seem, would not let it rain! In
any case, the answer given in the Talmud to the above question is that a person
should feel like a servant who has poured a cup of wine for his master, and
his master threw it in his face!
Other times than the first night of Sukkot, when it is raining moderately,
enough to cause drops of water to fall from the "Sechach" into one's food,
or if it is VERY cold, or VERY hot, or if stinging insects have set up residence
in the Sukkah, the obligation to eat in the Sukkah is cancelled. In fact,
if one remains in the Sukkah while suffering, it is not like a situation which
one would allow to exist in his own house and, since that is the basic measure
of whether something should be done in the Sukkah, rather than being considered
praiseworthy, that person is considered foolish.
Southern "Hospitality" (variation on a theme; meaning that the same story
could have happened at any time and at any place in the Jewish Exile, outside
of "Eretz Yisrael," the Land of Israel) This is a story about Jews who lived
in the "Old South," in the United States, in the early part of the twentieth
century, amongst non-Jews who, oddly enough, didn't appreciate their presence.
One night in early October, some members of the Town Council: Hobbs, Thomson
and Wilson, the Butcher, Baker and Undertaker, noticed that the Jews were
putting up a structure in the back of their synagogue.
Wilson, the Undertaker, spoke up, "These boys have their nerve. First of
all, we let 'em live with us. An' we get mighty little business ourselves
from the bunch of 'em. They can't jes build whenever they wanto. I say, Let's
haul 'em into court. We'll see how long their buildin' stands!"
The Rabbi and the President were brought before the Court of Judge Lawton,
not himself a great friend of the Jews. The President couldn't think of anything
to say. But the Rabbi, with a twinkle in his eye, said, "Judge, we realize
we made a mistake. Just give us ten days, then send over the Town Inspector,
and the new building will be gone."
The Judge, not knowing what to believe, said, "Alright, Rabbi, I'll do what
you said. But if my inspector tells me that you've still got something new
over there, I'm going to haul you and your President in handcuffs into jail!"
Of course, it was "Sukkot," and the "Sukkah," which was the new building,
wasn't needed for even ten days. So that, when the inspector arrived with
two sets of handcuffs at the ready, he was dumbfounded, and could not understand
what he was not seeing, and had to return to the Judge with his disappointing
The point of the story is somewhat humorous, in that it shows how a Jewish
leader outwitted the enemies of his community. But it is also somewhat sad,
because "Sukkot" is specifically That Holiday in which the Jewish People reach
out to the world, to include them in our prayers and in our rejoicing.
It is also poignant, in that it illustrates one of the themes of Sukkot,
paradoxical against the basic nature of the Holiday as the "Time of our Rejoicing."
That theme is captured by "Megilat Kohelet," which is read on Shabbat "Chol
HaMoed Sukkot," the Shabbat of the Intermediate Days of "Sukkot." It is the
theme of the temporary-ness of life, that Man has really such a short time
to accomplish his lofty goals, but also that if he tries, Hashem will help
The Essence of the "Sukkah"
The essence of a "Sukkah" is that it be a "temporary" structure, because
that conveys the idea of our dependence on G-d's constant protection. The
basic element of the Sukkah is the covering, the "Sechach," which protects
us from the elements (rain, snow (it's happened on several occasions!)). The
walls are of less importance, from the point of view of Jewish Law (perhaps
not from the point of view of those sitting inside), as long as the structure
is capable of standing in an "average" wind. The Sukkah doesn't have to be
as strong as Fort Knox, and indeed probably should not be so strong, because
that would violate the spirit of "temporary"-ness which is the essence of
The "Sechach," the Covering
Of What Materials May it be Made?
The "Sechach" must be made from some product of the earth, that is no longer
attached to the earth. Therefore, Wood of all kinds, including bamboo poles,
leafy branches, branches of pine trees (very aromatic, but pine needles tend
to wind up in one's soup), are all good. However, the actual branches and
leaves of a living tree, still attached to the ground, are not acceptable.
It might be interesting as a "treehouse," but it doesn't make it as a Sukkah.
"Sechach" cannot be made from utensils; even wooden utensils, such as spoons
and forks. Metal and plastic and glass, in any form, utensil or not, are invalid
as "sechach." Thus, strips of aluminum foil, thin stained glass rods, and
plastic straws or mats, are all nono's.
Maximum and Minimum Heights
An "amah" is a length somewhere between eighteen inches and two feet. The
maximum height of a Sukkah; that is, of its "Sechach" above the floor, is
twenty "amot;" that is, a height somewhere between thirty and forty feet.
(Mishnah 1 in Chapter 1 of Masechet Sukkah) The minimum height of a Sukkah
is ten "tefachim," where the "tefach," derived from a measure of the fist,
is between 8 and 9.6 centimeters, or about 3.2 - 3.8 inches. The height is
therefore between 32 and 38 inches, approximately, one yard, or meter. (Sukkah
1:1) How Thick? Lets Light Pass? Blocks Light?
The thickness of the "Sechach" must be such that in the daytime it provides
more shade than it allows sunlight to pass through.
On the other hand, it cannot be so thick that it would completely obscure
the brightest stars at night.
"Active" and "Passive" Covering
There is a verse in the Torah from which is derived the requirement that
the "Sechach" should be applied "actively" and not "passively." This principle
is called "Ta'Aseh v'lo Min he'Asuy." Using other words, positive, intentional
action on the part of the one who lays the "Sechach" is required, rather than
the passive allowing of the arrival of the "Sechach" to occur.
This principle, the requirement of positive action, rather than passive involvement,
has application in various areas of the Torah. Here, we will suffice with
two examples of its application in the World of the "Sukkah:"
1. One who hollows out space within a large haystack, hoping to use the hay
on top of the space as "Sechach," has not succeeded in creating a valid Sukkah,
because that hay was not placed there for the purpose of "Sechach," but for
some other hay-related purpose. (Of course, this is not to imply that hay
is not valid as "Sechach" (watch that double negative!); it certainly is valid
"Sechach" when it is placed properly.)
2. One may not use bundles of hay or some other valid "Sechach"-material
as "Sechach." You ask, "Why not?" The answer given by the Talmud, perhaps
somewhat more relevant in those times, or perhaps in the modern State of Israel,
where there are many Jewish farmers, is that sometimes a farmer will put a
bundle of hay on top of the Sukkah for the sole purpose of drying it in preparation
for some purpose unrelated to "Sechach." Only afterwards will he decide to
use those bundles as "Sechach!" But we would then be caught again in the trap
of passive placement rather that active covering!
And because of that fear of someone initially putting up bundles to dry,
and later deciding to use them as "Sechach," the Sages also said that even
if the builder of the Sukkah wanted from the beginning to use the bundles
as "Sechach," he is not permitted to do so.
About the Walls
The Average-Wind Principle As mentioned above, any material is valid for
wall construction, with the only requirement being that the structure be capable
of withstanding an "average" wind, that blows in that location (the requirements
for a Sukkah on the top of Mt. Washington, where the highest recorded wind
velocity (231 MPH) was measured, would probably be different from the requirements
in an area of gentle wind).
A Sukkot Fairy Tale
There is a story about three little pigs (pardon the expression) who decided
that they were old enough to make their own way in the world, and so left
their home. Each of them built a "house" (it would be difficult to say that
the pigs made Sukkot) of different materials. Little Pig Number 1 built his
out of straw, Little Pig Number 2 built his out of wood, and Little Pig Number
3 built his out of bricks.
A hungry wolf, not a friend of the little pigs, came to visit each. He attempted
to blow their houses down (let's assume that he started with the force of
an "average" wind, although in reality (which is very important in a fairy
tale)) it was probably stronger. The wolf succeeded immediately in blowing
down the house of Little Pig Number 1, whose fate is unknown, except for the
fact that the smell of pork chops (again, pardon the expression) was noticed
in the neighborhood where Number 1's house had been. When he went to the house
of Little Pig Number 2, the wolf's initial attempts to blow the house down
were unsuccessful. However, when he raised the intensity of his blowing to
that of a strong wind, the house eventually collapsed, and Little Pig Number
2 met a similar fate as had Number 1.
However, when he went to Little Pig Number 3's house, which had been made
of strong brick, the wolf huffed and he puffed, and he puffed and he huffed,
until he was blowing as hard as a moderate-force hurricane, but the house
withstood all his efforts. Thus, we see that had the little pigs in fact been
interested in Sukkah-building, Little Pig Number 1 would have failed miserably,
even as his house did when put to the test by the wolf. Little Pig Number
2 probably had made an adequate Sukkah because it protected him against the
initial blowing efforts by the wolf although, much to his ultimate displeasure,
it could not protect him when the wolf raised the intensity of his blowing
above the level of an "average" wind. Little Pig Number 3, although safe from
the attack of the wolf, could probably have used his house as a bomb-shelter,
and thus had gone way beyond the "temporary"-ness required of a Sukkah.
Walls Which Don't Quite Make It
If, say, the canvas walls of one's Sukkah were improperly designed, or done
in this manner as an example of modern "Sukkah" architecture, but in any case
don't quite reach the floor, what is the "shiur," or measure for validity,
that is required? According to the Sages, if the walls are within 3 "tefachim"
of the ground, the Sukkah is acceptable. In centimeters, this measure is approximately
24 - 29 cm., about one foot. The explanation of this measurement is that it
corresponds to the height under which a goat could run in and out, "adding"
to the calm and peacefulness of the Holiday meals, and "rest periods."
What about the Overall Size of the "Sukkah"?
The overall size of any object, or thing, is given by the combination of
the height and the area. For example, the World Trade Center and a flagpole
might have the same height. But the fact that they have different areas makes
the World Trade Center much bigger than the flagpole! The minimum area of
a Sukkah is defined in the Talmud to be seven-by-seven "tefachim," or about
two feet by two feet. When we combine this with the minimum height, ten "tefachim,
or about one yard, we find that the mimimum overall size of a "Sukkah" is
just about large enough to accommodate the "head and most of the body of a
man, and the "mini" - table from which the man eats," to use the definition
of the Talmud. This corresponds to the size of a small refrigerator, or the
space needed to accommodate a short, seated adult. There is no maximum for
the overall size of a Sukkah. It could be so large, made so by vast lengths
and widths, to accommodate the entire Jewish People, or the population of
the world. The Midrash speaks of the Sukkah made for the righteous in the
World-to-Come as being made from the skin of the Leviathan, the giant sea-creature.
To use a much smaller, but perhaps more familiar example, consider Godzilla.
"Noy Sukkah," the Decoration of the Sukkah
Our Sages have said, in Masechet Shabbat (133) the following: The verse "This
is my G-d and I will give Him Beauty," (Shemot 15:2) may be interpreted in
this way - (The Sages are offering a Midrashic explanation to answer the
unasked question, "How can Man give anything to G-d?" Who was the Creator,
and therefore Owner, of, literally, everything - and is the quintessential
example of the difficulty of giving presents to one who has everything!) "Make
yourself beautiful before Him in your performance of the "Mitzvot," the Commandments:
" a beautiful "Sefer Torah," "Scroll of the Torah;" written for the sake
of the Commandment, with beautiful ink, with a beautiful pen, by an expert
scribe, and placed in a beautiful covering."
The above principle, of performing the Commandments in a beautiful way applies
to all the (248) Positive "Mitzvot," or Commandments of the Torah, but has
special application to the "Mitzvot" of Sukkot, where "beauty" is not just
a quality describing the Commandment, but is an essential part of the Commandment.
When the Torah describes an "Etrog," a Citron Fruit, as a "Pri Eitz Hadar,"
(Vayikra 23:40) a "fruit of a tree of beauty," it doesn't mean to say only
that the fruit should exhibit the quality of beauty, but that beauty should
be part of the essential nature of the "etrog."
To paraphrase Keats, with apologies, "Beauty is the "Etrog; the "Etrog,"
Beauty." Keats had written, in "Ode on a Grecian Urn," the following:
"Beauty is Truth;
That is all ye know on earth,
And all ye need to know"
For a Jewish Perspective on "Beauty," see Rabbi J. Schmidman's essay, Beauty
and the Etrog. In any case, this concept applies as well to all the "Mitzvot"
of Sukkot, with lesser emphasis, perhaps, to the other members of the "four
species," the four members of the fruit and plant "Kingdoms," which are used
together as a "Mitzvah," but to the Sukkah, itself, as well. That is why we
go to such effort to beautify our Sukkot; to hang pleasant fruit and vegetables,
real or imitation, fancy decorative hangings, pictures on the walls of the
Land of Israel, of scenes from Jewish History, especially of Times of the
Temple, verses from the Bible, portraits of great Jewish Leaders from ancient
and less ancient times. It is why we use our best dishes and silverware, glasses
and Kiddush Cups; to live in the "Sukkah," on a temporary basis, in the same
manner as we live in our "permanent and secure" homes all year long.
"Ushpizin, " the Royal Guests
The "Ushpizin," The Seven Guests -- On Pesach, at the Seder, we express the
idea that "In every generation, each person is obligated to see himself as
if he were one of the redeemed Jewish slaves." Similarly, on Sukkot, as we
sit and enjoy the festive meals, we are privileged to have as our company
seven of the greatest leaders of our People. As Eliyahu HaNavi visits each
Seder Table on the Night of Pesach, so on each of the Seven Nights of Sukkot,
one of these seven is our main guest, while the others of the "Faithful Shepherds"
sit with us as well.
The presence of these great guests reminds us of the supreme importance in
the Jewish Religion of having guests, specifically poor guests, or those who
are less fortunate than us in some way, to share the joy of the festivals
with us. For, as the RAMBAM reminds us, any kind of physical enjoyment which
is not shared with the poor or less fortunate, is viewed by G-d as alien,
and as only the enjoyment of our bellies. Whereas, if it is shared, that same
physical celebration is raised to the heights of "Avodat Hashem," Service
of the L-rd.
The seven are our three Avot,: Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, our great teacher,
Moshe, and his brother, beloved to all of Israel, Aharon HaKohen, Yosef the
Righteous, and the "sweet singer of Israel," who also taught us how and when
to fight for the Name of G-d, King David. David was also the ancestor of the
"Mashiach," the Messiah, hopefully already born, "May he come soon and in
Each of these seven endured and overcame the difficulties of exile with the
protection of Hashem:
Avraham was commanded "Go forth from your homeland, from your birthplace
and from the house of your father, to the Land that I will show you." (Bereshit
In connection with Yitzchak, we find "And there was a famine in the Land,
in addition to the one that occurred in the days of Avraham; and Yitzchak
went to Avimelech, King of the Philistines, in Gerar." (Bereshit 26:1)
In connection with Yaakov, we find "Arise, therefore, and go to Aram, the
house of Bethuel, your mother's father." (Bereshit 28:2)
Similarly, Yosef was sold as a slave to Egypt. Moshe and Aharon led the Jewish
People during their forty year sojourn in the desert. And David fled from
his enemies into the Desert of Judea.
In all the above cases, we were taught how to maintain our faith in the Protection
of Hashem despite great adversity, which is one of the secrets of the survival
of the Jewish People. In some Sephardic Communities, there is a "minhag" or
custom, to prepare a special chair, decorated and dedicated in honor of the
main guest of the evening, on each of the Seven Nights of Sukkot.
Placement of the Sukkah
1. Note that the twenty "amot" mentioned above as the maximum height of the
Sukkah are measured from the surface on which the Sukkah stands, not necessarily
from the ground. Thus, if for example Sukkot are built on top of the World
Trade Center in New York City, or the Shalom Tower in Tel Aviv, and the height
of the Sukkah itself is, say, ten "amot." The Sukkot are perfectly "kosher,"
or valid, and the heights of those two skyscrapers are temporarily augmented
by the amount of ten "amot" for the duration of Sukkot.
2. One can make a valid Sukkah on the top of a wagon in motion, or on the
top deck of a ship at sail; or for that matter, on the back of a flatbed truck
traveling along a superhighway or the wing of a v-e-r-y s-l-o-w airplane in
flight. The above statement is true despite the fact that the Sukkah is in
motion with respect to the ground in the case of the wagon, and the ocean
in the case of the ship, the highway or the air in the last two cases.
That motion is irrelevant! Why so? Because in all the cases, the Sukkah is
at rest with respect to the wagon or the ship or the truck or the wing. That
means that the Sukkah is not moving around on the wagon, or on the deck of
the ship; it is not skipping around on the back of the truck, or scampering
back and forth on the wing. Rather, it is quite still. And from the point
of view of the occupants of the Sukkah, it is just as if the Sukkah were at
rest in their own backyard!
It is for the same reason that a person inside a plane can walk leisurely
along the aisle of a jet plane traveling smoothly through the air at 600 miles
per hour. "Not to beat a dead horse," on whose back if it were alive, one
could also construct a minimum-size Sukkah, It is because the occupants of
the Sukkah as well as the passengers on the jet are traveling at the same
speed as the Sukkah or the jet.
3. Speaking of constructing Sukkot on the backs of animals, the Talmud does
also address the question of making one on the back of a camel. The conclusion
is that the Sukkah would be valid, for the reasons given above, except that
one could not climb up into it on the first days of the Holiday, because of
a side reason. The Sages enacted a "gezera" against riding on animals on Shabbat
and the Holidays, out of concern lest a rider unwittingly break off a branch
as he or she rode along an overgrown trail, and that (the breaking of the
branch) would be a violation of a "Melacha."
Lulav and Etrog
And you shall take for you on the first day, the fruit of the tree 'hadar'
and branches of palm trees, and a bough of the tree avot and willows of the
brook, and you shall rejoice before the Hashem, your G-d, seven days. Leviticus
The mitzvah of taking the four species is for all seven days of Sukkot. Two
blessings are said the first day, all netilat lulav and she'hecheeyanu and
one bracha, al netilat lulav is said for the other six days. According to
Torah law, the lulav is taken for all seven days only in the Holy Temple in
Jerusalem when it was standing, and outside the Temple only on the first day
of Sukkot. Our sages ordained, however, that we should also take the four
species for all seven days as a remembrance of Temple Times.
The four species all taken together make up one single mitzvah. If any of
the species are missing then you have not fulfilled the mitzvah at all. One
lulav, one etrog, two aravot, and three hadasim is taken on Sukkot. The lulav,
hadasim and aravot are bound together. The four species are not taken on Shabbat
even when it falls on the first day of Sukkot. The mitzvah applies during
the day but not at night.
On the first day of Sukkot, a person must be careful to own the lulav and
etrog he is performing the mitzvah with. On the the other six days, ownership
is not strictly required. A person should try to take four species, which
are beautiful. Of course, this has to be done for the sake of the mitzvah
and in service to G-d; not for the purpose of showing off to the neighbors.
Aspects of the Four Species
"Origin of (the Four) Species"
The Biblical origin is in the Book of Vayikra; specifically, in Parshat Emor,
where the Torah commands "And you shall take for yourselves on the First Day
the fruit of a beautiful tree, the branches of date palms, branches of the
myrtle tree, and branches of the willow tree, and you shall rejoice before
Hashem, your G-d, for Seven Days." (Vayikra 23:40)
Symbolism of the Four Species
The Commandment is to take these four species together as a unit, and to
shake them together in all directions, at various times on Sukkot.
One possible explanation is that we are taking these four elements from nature,
and demonstrating that Hashem rules over nature everywhere and, by fulfilling
this Command throughout the generations of our People, also at all times.
Two additional aspects of this "Group of Four" are as follows:
1.The "Etrog," the Citron, resembles in its shape, the heart, the driving
force behind all our actions. The "Lulav," the Palm Branch, resembles the
spine, which holds the body together and, without which, we would be unable
to move. The "Hadasim," the Myrtle Branches, resemble, in their almond-shape,
the eyes, with which we behold G-d's World. And the "Aravot," the Willow Branches,
resemble the lips, with which we give expression to our thoughts and feelings.
By holding these four together, we show that a person should devote all of
his-or- her strengths and capacities to the Service of Hashem.
2.The "Etrog" has both a pleasant taste and a pleasant aroma, symbolizing
one who possesses both the blessings of knowledge of Torah and of good deeds.
The "Lulav," the branch of a tree (the date palm) the fruit of which has good
taste but no aroma, symbolizes the person who has Torah knowledge but not
good deeds. The "Hadas," the myrtle, which has pleasant aroma only, symbolizes
the person who has good deeds but not Torah. And the "Aravah," the willow
branch, which has neither pleasant taste nor pleasant aroma, symbolizes the
person who has neither Torah nor good deeds.
Holding these four in a tight bond represents the unity that is Hashem's
goal for the Jewish People. The bond represents the conversion of a set of
separate individuals into a People, which is far greater than any individual
in both the Crown of Torah and the Crown of Good Deeds, and is far more deserving
than any individual of the blessings of Hashem.
The Stolen (!) Four Species
For each of the Four Species, the Mishnah in Masechet Sukkah compares the
stolen article to its dried out and lifeless form, which is absolutely invalid.
This is derived from a word in the Torah, and is also very understandable.
It is derived from the word "yourselves" in the expression "And you shall
take for yourselves the fruit of a beautiful tree, ," implying that one's
ownership is required."
But the explanation is to be found in the Talmud. The reason that the stolen
"Lulav," for example, cannot be used as part of the fulfillment of a Divine
Command, is that it would then be a "Command performed By Means of a Sin,"
which is self-contradictory! It is obvious that an Act would not be pleasing
to Hashem, if it comes at the price of violation of one of His Own Commands.
After the regular daily offering in the Temple, the Additional Offerings
were brought. Each day there was a different number of these Additional Offerings
were to be brought. All together seventy oxen were to be brought in the course
of the entire festival. These seventy oxen corresponded to the seventy original
nations of the world who descended from the sons of Noah, and who were the
ancestors of all the nations till this day. Israel brought these sacrifices
as atonement for the nations of the world and in prayer for their well being
as well as for universal peace and harmony between them.
Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi said, "If the nations of the world had known the
value of the Temple for them, they would have surrounded it with fortresses
in order to protect it. For it was greater value for them than for Israel.
The Water Libations
Every sacrifice brought in the Temple was accompanied by a flour offering
and the pouring of a prescribed measure of wine on the altar. During the seven
days of the Festival of Sukkot a libation of water was added to that of wine
together with each of the daily morning offerings. This water libation is
not explicitly mentioned in Torah but it is a law revealed to Moshe on Sinai
to which the Sages have found allusions in the Torah.
The Water Libation was performed with intense joy. Accompanying the Water
Libation were festivities entitled Simchas Beis HaShoavah, or happiness of
the house of the water-drawing) refering to the waters, which were drawn from
the pool of Shiloach (which is referred to as the waters of salvation). The
festivities were held in the Ezrat Nashim, which was the courtyard of the
outer Temple. Though a relatively small area, miracously, many thousands of
happy people were able to crowd in. There was dancing and singing in celebration
of the drawing of the water.
Our sages said, "He who has not seen the rejoicing at the Simchas Beis Hashoavah,
has never seen rejoicing in his life."
Why was the Water Libation such a happy occasion? It is as if G-d says to
Israel, "All your offerings are precious to Me, but this offering of the water
which you pour on the altar during the festival is especially precious. Water
requires neither planting nor reaping or pressing no purifying. Let it be
joined with the wine libation, which requires all sorts of preparations. In
my eyes, your wine and water are equal, those that require great effort and
those that don't, so long as you rejoice in me without any mixture of foreign
thoughts or ulterior motives." Through the water libation, the Jewish people
knew that all their exertion in the service of G-d throughout the year rises
to be accepted by him.
Hoshana Rabbah is the seventh and last day of Sukkot, which is the day before
Shmini Atzeres. Named for the fact that more hoshanot are said on this day
than all the previous days of the festival. On Hoshana Rabbah the beating
of the aravah, willow branch, is performed. Although Hoshana Rabbah was not
accorded any different status by the Torah than the other days of Chol Hamoed,
the Jewish people have observe many customs on this day and have invested
it with a solemn character. For example, the white parochet, curtain on the
ark, in shul remains up until after Hoshana Rabbah.
In the morning services of Hoshanna Rabbah, following Musaf (and some places
after hallel) the hoshanot are said as written in the prayerbook, the congregation
marches around the bima seven times, after which comes the beating of the
aravah, willow branch. The aravahs are beaten against the floor five times.
No blessing is recited over the beating of the aravah since it was merely
Hoshana Rabbah is known as the day of the final sealing of judgment, which
began on Rosh Hashannah. During the festival of Sukkot the world is judged
for water and for the blessings of the fruit and crops. The seventh day of
the festival is the final sealing and since human life depends on water, Hoshanna
Rabbah is somewhat similar to Yom Kippur. Hence there are additional prayers
and quests for repentance as on Yom Kippur.
Used by permission, The Intercessors Network. Click
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*This article was originally published in 1978. Jews
for Jesus 2002. Used with permission.
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