|Background and Biblical sources|
From the Bible
The festival of Sukkot is rooted in the Bible, which delineates its basic laws and recounts the historical events related to it.
According to the Pentateuch, HAG HA-SUKKOT (Feast of Booths) or HAG HA-ASIF (Feast of Ingathering), as the holiday is alternately termed, is one of the three festivals on which the Israelites were enjoined to make a pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem. It prescribes the manner of observance -- dwelling in booths, prohibition of work on the first and eighth days, offering sacrifices, use of the Four Species, and rejoicing over the harvest.
The people were commanded to assemble and hear the reading of the Law of Moses every seventh year, on the Feast of Booths.
The Festival has nine days (eight in Israel) and begins on the 15th of Tishri.
In addition to the first days there are four intervening days (third to sixth inclusive) known as Chol Hamo'ed -- weekdays of the Festival. There are three further days, with characteristics of their own making a combined nine day festival period.
The Temple Period
The dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem during the reign of King Solomon took place on Sukkot, and this historic event is described in detail in I Kings and 2 Chronicles.
First Kings also describes the rebellion of Jeroboam against Rehoboam, King Solomon's successor. To show his independence, Jeroboam, among other changes, changed the date for the commemoration of the feast.
The biblical books of Ezra and Nehemiah contain accounts of the reinstitution of the celebration of Sukkot in Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile.
The prophet Zechariah foresaw a period when all nations will worship one God and will observe the Feast of Booths. The idea of a universal religious brotherhood is confirmed in the rabbinic dictum:
A Sukkot Summary
NOTE: Each of the * sections below is presented in greater detail in subsequent background files:
Sukkot is also historically a national celebration--CHAG HA-ASIF--the Harvest Festival. At this time of year the farmer had already gathered his harvest and was relaxing before the first rains. It is only in relation to Sukkot that the Torah says,
This is why Sukkot is also the only holiday called, "ZMAN SIMCHATENU"-- the season of our rejoicing.
Through the Ages
Solomon's temple in Jerusalem was consecrated during Chag Ha-Asif, and because of this, the holiday of Sukkot became the first of the three REGALIM (pilgrimage festivals celebrated in Jerusalem: Sukkot, Passover and Shavuot).
When Solomon went to Jerusalem, he went with all the people of Israel. The Cohanim (priests) and the Levites brought up all the holy vessels in the Tabernacle and G-d's altar (the Ark). King Solomon and all the Congregation of Israel that were assembled with him sacrificed sheep and oxen before the Ark.
After the Babylonian exile, Chag Ha-Asif became known as Sukkot. This was in remembrance of the days our ancestors left Egypt and dwelled in booths (Sukkot);
The Torah names the first seven days of Sukkot "Chag Ha-Sukkot"--The Festival of Booths--for during these days we are commanded to sit in the Sukkah. In Israel, Sukkot is celebrated for eight days, while in all other places nine days are celebrated. The eighth day is called Atzeret, and the last day is called Simchat Torah. The first and eighth days are both holy days, and no work is permitted.
Before Sukkot, every Jew builds a Sukkah in his yard where he and his family join in the Sukkot meal. Chassidim (men of good deeds) begin building the Sukkah immediately after Yom Kippur ends, so as to proceed directly from mitzvah to mitzvah:
Home and Community Customs
The mitzvah of ARBA'AT HA-MINIM, the four species, symbolizes national unity: The ETROG and LULAV symbolize a full life of happiness and love of G-d. The HADAS and ARAVA represent the weaknesses of man. On Sukkot, it is a mitzvah to invite poor Torah students to join in the meals. In extending this invitation, the Ushpizin are also hosted-- Arbraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron and David. This custom represents our forefather Abraham's mitzvah of inviting guests.
The seventh day of the mitzvah of Sukkah and "the four species" was named Hosha'nah Rabbah for the prayer "Hosha'nah." On this day, the altar was circled seven times, while the following words were repeated-
Today, we march around the Bimah (reader's pulpit) seven times with the Torah, reciting the same Hosha'nah prayer. On this day, the LULAVIM wave repeatedly, signifying the nation's prayer for rain.
The night of Hosha'nah Rabbah is the culmination of judgement, the day when our future fate is decided upon and sealed for the coming year. The night has thus come to be called LEYL HA-CHOTAM--the night of the sealing of man's fate.
On SIMCHAT TORAH (the last day of the Sukkot festival), the annual cycle of the Torah reading is completed, and immediately begun again-- symbolizing the nation's eternity.
The reader who finished the last portion of the Torah is called CHATAN TORAH, bridegroom of the Torah, and the reader who begins "BERESHIT" (the first portion of the Torah) is called CHATAN BERESHIT, bridegroom of Genesis.
On this day, the Torah is lovingly surrounded with dancing, while children carry flags garnished with apples at the end of sticks.
The materials in this file have been adapted from the "SUCCOT" folder written and produced by the former Publications Division of the Youth and Hechalutz Department, WZO and from "SUKKOT", a leaflet by the American Zionist Youth Foundation, WZO, New York.