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CELEBRATION

The Feast of Tabernacles, or Sukkot

By Intercessors Network

CBN.com -- 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 the meal!

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

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 report.

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 him.

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 Sukkah.

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;
Truth, Beauty
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 our time!"

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 12:1)

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 Chapter 23.

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.

Seventy Oxen

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

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 a custom.

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 here to sign up for their e-mail update.

Learn more at the Jews for Jesus web site

More Christianity's Jewish Roots

Inside Israel from CBN News

More Spiritual Life


*This article was originally published in 1978. Jews for Jesus 2002. Used with permission.

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