September 29, 2023 /
We celebrate Sukkot, our fall harvest festival, by recognizing the beauty and importance of the natural world. Jews celebrate three harvest festivals which are mentioned in the Torah: Passover, which marks the harvest of winter crops; Shavuot, which marks the harvest of spring crops; and Sukkot, which marks the harvest of summer crops. The three festivals were celebrated in ancient times by making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. In addition to being agricultural festivals, each of the three holidays also marks a significant event in Jewish tradition. Passover recalls the Exodus from Egypt, Shavuot recalls the giving of the Torah at Sinai, and Sukkot recalls the journey of the Israelites through the wilderness.
Sukkot is a seven day festival which begins on the 15th of the month of Tishri. Sukkot is a time of thanksgiving and celebration, and is called Z’man Simchateinu, the Season of our Joy. Following so quickly after the High Holy Days, Sukkot provides a pleasant time for joyful togetherness after the introspection and soul-searching of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
While most holidays are either in the synagogue or at the dining room table, Sukkot is celebrated outside, in temporary dwellings called sukkot (singular sukkah), from which the holiday gets its name. A sukkah is usually a three or four sided hut with an open roof covered only by branches.
The final day of Sukkot includes two special observances, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah. Shemini Atzeret is a more solemn occasion, during which we pray for rain during the coming wet season. We also say Yizkor, the memorial prayers, on Shemini Atzeret.
Simchat Torah, the joy of the Torah, is one of the happiest days in the entire year. Though this holiday is not mentioned in the Torah or in the Talmud, it has become a joyous and loved holiday. On Simchat Torah we celebrate the completion of a full cycle of Torah reading. We read the final verses of the Book of Deuteronomy, and immediately begin the new cycle of Torah reading with the opening verses of Genesis. Here at Anshe Emeth, we also celebrate our new religious school students with a special ceremony on the bimah.
Perhaps the most central observance of Sukkot is the building of a sukkah! The sukkah is the central symbol of the holiday. The rabbis of the Talmud gave basic instructions for building a sukkah. The sukkah must have at least three walls, and cannot be more than 39 feet tall. These rules are meant to enforce the temporary nature of the sukkah. The roof of the sukkah is made of branches, leaves, or corn stalks. The roof should be built so that during the day time there is shade, though at night one should still be able to see the stars in the sky through the branches. Decorating the sukkah can be a fun activity for the whole family. Pictures, fruits hanging on strings, and colored paper chains are just a few of the decorations found in the typical sukkah.
We also celebrate Sukkot with the lulav and etrog. The use of the lulav and etrog comes from Leviticus 23:40, which says that we are to “take the produce of goodly trees (etrog), branches of palm trees, boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook (combined to make a lulav) and rejoice before God for seven days.” We take the lulav in our right hand, the etrog in our left hand, and hold them together. Making sure that they are touching we wave the lulav and etrog to the east, south, west, north, up, and down.
The holiday of Sukkot is the autumn harvest festival. It is a great time to have a little agriculture lesson at home. Talk to them about harvesting produce as well as how foods grow. This is a great time of the year to go to an orchard, and let your child pick their own fruits or vegetables.
Send the fruits with them for a school snack. I am sure that they will be thrilled to share their picking experience with their friends.
You can take this opportunity to do some fun family crafts as well. One idea is an edible Sukkah. Make it out of graham crackers, icing, and pretzel rods for the roof. With younger children, you can make some apple prints to decorate your house with this fall season. The holidays are a great time for family discussion and family fun.
While sitting in the sukkah, we become more aware of the fragility of life. We also think of sharing with others, as we invite others to join us in our sukkah. Accordingly, it is common to give tzedakah to organizations that help people whose lives are lived in fragile dwellings and may not have enough food. Here are some organizations you might consider supporting this year:
Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger
10495 Santa Monica Blvd., Suite 100
Los Angeles, CA 90025
18 Nielson Street
New Brunswick, NJ 08901
AEMT Tzedakah Fund
Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple
222 Livingston Avenue
New Brunswick, NJ 08901
Special thanks to www.ReformJudaism.org for their wonderful links.