Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Seven Joyous Days of Sukkot

Nadene Goldfoot                                                              

Our Jewish history goes back so far that we have accumulated a lot of historic facts.  Moses, from the Levite tribe,  lived from 1391 to 1271 BCE.  It could also have taken place as far back as 1445 BCE.  Egyptian history indicates a period during the reign of Pharaoh Merneptah (1225-15 BCE).  Some think Rameses I or II was the Pharoah of the story which is the city where Jews left Egypt from.  Thutmoses III is a good possible of the pharoah in question, putting the Exodus in 1440 BCE.  To remember and celebrate a period  that happened at least  c. 3,404 years ago is just part of how we remember this important event.  Now we're about to embark upon another  happy holiday that starts tomorrow night (Wednesday the 18th) and lasts for 7 days.  It's a camping out under the stars holiday commemorating the Israelites during their 40 years of wandering in the desert with Moses when they left Egypt as slaves.  The Israelites were the 12 tribes of Jacob, son of Isaac who was the son of Abraham.  Jacob had 12 sons by his 2 wives and 2 concubines and one lovely daughter, Dinah.  The 70 people were held captive as slaves from the time they had entered Egypt to the time they left with Moses, an event called the Exodus.  Of course, by the time they left, all the slaves who were following Moses numbered about 600,000.  Their trek is quite a story.  Moses actually took a census of each tribe.

They built little booth-like structures that they slept in. In essence,  we role play this period of time by actually reenacting the experience.  The best part is that work is prohibited on the first day in Israel, but the first 2 days in the diaspora because we want to be sure we are doing it on the day the people of Israel are also doing it.

Families try to eat all 3 meals and snacks in their succah.  We have a special recipe for building our succah (booth) like a rectangle missing a side  that resembles a dining room in a way but with 3 sides which is found in the Mishnah and Talmud treatise "Sukkah".  The roof is of special importance  and must be made of leafy boughs or sometimes straw with the shaded area bigger than the unshaded.  This means that we have holes in our roof so we can see the stars.  Walls can be made of anything, usually blankets, and only 2 really need to be completed.  The booth is to be decorated with curtains, fruits, and symbols of the holiday like pumpkins, such things from a harvest.                                  

Sukkot is one of 3 pilgrim-festivals beginning on the Hebrew calendar on Tishri 15 with the 8th day of Shemini Atzeret being a separate holiday which in Israel is combined with another festival of Simhat Torah.  It's also called a festival of harvest.  The tradition is to celebrate it by taking the  4 species; palm (lulav), citron (etrog), myrtle and willow and carrying them in a procession in the synagogue and by living in your Sukkah.  Each of these 4 kinds represent a different type of Jew.  It is a symbol of our oneness as a people.  We all need one another. The 4 kinds are waved in all 4 directions; east, west, north and south and up and down, signifying that G-d is everywhere.  This gives me the shivers, because right now we are experiencing the return of all our Jews from the 4 corners of the earth, something that has been prophesied

We are told that during those 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, the Jewish people were surrounded by protective "clouds of glory."  We remember this awesome event in our history to enhance our awareness of G-d's all-embracing love and protection.  We were commanded "In Sukkahs (booths) you shall dwell, seven days."  (Lev. 23:42).  It's great since this holiday is so much fun and makes us really remember the history.  Mothers will bake different harvest breads like banana, zucchini breads, etc, the more the merrier to entertain friends with.  Also, it's a breather from school that had just started, our last hurrah before buckling down and studying.

The period of living in our sukkah is to help us  become more exhilarated with life.  We had just experienced 7 solemn days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.  Sukkot will bring us happiness in all the weeks of the year to come.  It is a great time to recall.

Resource: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/02/sukkah-jews-eat-sleep-and-give-thanks-in-sukkot-photos_n_1933625.html
The New Standard Jewish Encyclopedia
Your Tshrei guide from Chabad, 1996

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