By Mata H on October 14, 2008
BlogHer Original Post
Succoth, the 7-day-long Jewish holiday which began last night, is also known as the feast of Tabernacles. This time recalls the period during the Exodus when the Israelites stayed in make-shift huts. In very observant homes, the first the last days are holy days on which work is forbidden. The last day of the festival is called Simchat Torah (rejoicing of the Torah) when the final section of the Torah scroll is read in the synagogue, and is then turned back to the beginning to start another year’s schedule of readings reading.
As part of a traditional Succoth, an observant family or a synagogue will even build a sukkah (hut) as a remainder of the original desert huts. All meals will be eaten there, and the most observant of families will even sleep there. The hut must be built so that the sky shows through the roof, and the elements can come in -- rain if it rains, sun if it shines.
In Israel, many restaurants build a sukkah to accommodate their Orthodox clientele.Several pictures can be found here of restaurants in Jerusalem where the sukkahs have been built out to the curb of the street.
Succoth is also a harvest festival. In ancient times, the men went to the temple in Jerusalem to offer thanks for the past harvest and to pray for the success of the next year's crop. The agricultural significance of the festival is symbolized by the required ‘four species’ -- the palm branch, the myrtle, the willow and etrog (the citron) -- over which a special blessing is recited each day of the festival. Great care is taken in finding the most perfect examples of each item. A helpful commentary, Myjewishlearning.com, suggests that there are several ways to understand the waving of the elements:
The motion and order of the wavings is highly significant
1. On a basic level there is simply the arousal of our joy, thanksgiving, and praise of God at the time of the final fruit harvest.
2. The directions are symbolic of divine rule over nature.
3. There is the representation of the fertility of the land and the desire for rain.
4. This is also representative of our complete immersion in the holiday. On one level, we are surrounded by the sukkah. On another level, through this motion (of bringing in toward us), Sukkot enters us. The lulav becomes a conduit of peace and G-d's presence from every direction; transcendence and immanence. We gather in and are gathered in.
Through all of these, the themes of Sukkot are played out and interwoven beautifully: redemption, universal peace ... completion.
A beautiful series of photos of Succoth in Jerusalem can be found here, including the selection process for palm fronds, myrtle and etrog.
I have celebrated this festival with friends in NYC -- how lovely a memory it is which also included trips to Orthodox Brooklyn to buy the Four Species and material for the roof. Back in NY, high on a balcony, was a legitimate sukkah, overlooking Greenwhich Village. It was magical, and a perfect reminder of roots which stretch far past the City.
Many bloggers have been building sukkahs and celebrating this festival.
While She Naps, a crafter, shows pictures of the sukkah that she built on her patio.
Jennifer has taken a lovely picture of her neighbor's sukkah.
Lisa at Our Hebrew Roots has collected comments about how people have decorated their sukkahs.
Lauren discusses the trials of building a sukkah and suggests several "sukkahs by mail" companies that provide sukkah kits.
Debby posted some pictures of the sukkah that she just dined in, in Jerusalem.
Maidel talks about what she learned from the sukkah practice:
Sukkos is about leaving the comforts of your home - recognizing that the physical and material things we have are not what actually protects us and keeps us safe. There may be a financial "crisis" but maybe this is a chance for some of us to realize that money is not everything, that it is not what life is really about.
Mata H also blogs at her home blog, Time's Fool