Dear Tanta Golda,
I noticed that September is chock-full of holidays this year. Our congregation holds a Shabbat under the sukkah, but I’m embarrassed to attend because my family didn’t do anything with this holiday when I grew up, so I don’t know much about Sukkot. Why are people so excited about eating in this shack?
Sukkot is both a biblical holiday (mentioned in the Torah) and an agricultural one.
Sukkot is also called the Feast of Ingathering. It is one of three agricultural holidays in our tradition (the others being Passover & Shavuot) and it takes place at the conclusion of the fall harvest. These three holidays are also called the pilgrimage holidays, when during the time the Temple stood in Jerusalem, every man was obligated to go to Jerusalem with an thanks offering. It’s only good manners: good crop - thank you Hashem.
In Leviticus 23: 42-43 we are instructed: You shall dwell in sukkot seven days, every citizen in Israel shall dwell in sukkot, so that your descendants shall know that I caused the children of Israel to dwell in sukkot when I brought them out of the land of Egypt. That’s right, there were no Motel 6s or Holiday Inns when the Israelites fled Egypt, so they build temporary shelters-sukkot (booths).
Since the sukkot that the Israelites built were temporary, the ones we build are meant to be too. Some of the walls may be permanent, so it is not unusual that they are built against one side of a house (or Temple). The other walls may be bamboo, canvas, even highly decorated plywood! The roof however, must be temporary. While you can construct it to provide more shade than light, it must allow those inside to see the stars at night. Quite often people will use branches or bamboo poles. To commemorate the agricultural nature of the holiday, the inside is often decorated with fruits and vegetables.
Traditionally, you must eat all of your meals in the sukkah during the seven day festival, weather permitting. Some families even sleep in theirs. Tanta Golda’s congregation tries to provide the opportunity for its members to eat at least one meal in the sukkah with their annual pot luck Shabbat.
It is also customary to welcome the spiritual ushpizin (guests) that accompany every Jew into the sukkah. According to the Kabbala they are the seven shepherds of Israel: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, and David. Think of them as the Jewish equivalent of your guardian angels. (Make sure you build your sukkah large enough to accommodate them all!)
The Torah also commands us to: take for yourselves...the fruit of a hadar (beautiful) tree (an etrog), the branch of the palm trees, a bough from the "avot" tree, and willows of the stream...these last three species make up the lulav. You are supposed to hold all four of these items together and shake them in six directions: up, down, east, west, north, south - representing that G-d is everywhere. You may also notice that the shaking of the lulav mimics the sound of rain, once again that agricultural tie in! In an arid place like the land of Israel, (or much of California) rain is very important!
There is symbolic significance given to the four species, but Tanta Golda will address them another day.
Keep sending TG your questions: TantaGolda@gmail.com