We celebrate the Season of our Joy, the Festival of Sukkot, for 7 days from the 15th of the month of Tishrei until the 21st. Unifying both the lunar and solar cycles, Sukkot is a time of redemption, fullfillment and unification. (1) "You shall sit in succot seven days" (Leviticus 23:42). This is the essential mitzvah of the Festival. Why are we required to live in this temporary dwelling? We must enlarge our perspective. The sukkah is a reminder of our travels in the wilderness, our living in temporary constructions. Maimonides in 'Laws of Repentance' (Ch 2 Hal 4) concludes the stages of penitence with the necessity of being exiled from one's own home (golah mimkomo). (2) Only Gd's clouds of glory can truely protect us. Only Life itself brings true Joy, not the material aquisitions and social strivings we so often mistake as bearers of our happiness.
Inside the succah there is Peace for the sukkah "represents a Oneness so deep and all-embracing that all distinctions pale in signifigance before it". (3) Into the sukkah we invite on each successive night of Sukkot one of the 7 Shepherds of Israel: Avraham, Issac, Jacob, Moshe, Aaron, Yossef and David. Their unique qualities inform each day with a different spirit. The Ushpizin, as they are called, remind us to invite quests to join us in our sukkahs. When the Temple stood in Jerusalem 'Additional Offerings' of 70 bulls were brought on Sukkot. These offerings represented the 70 nations of the earth and point to a universal connectedness that is a key to this Hag.
The Temple ceremonies also included a ritual not mentioned in the Torah, the Water libation. Simchat Bet HaShoevah is the focus of the Joy of Sukkot. The Talmud (Sukkah 51a-b: 53a) declares; "one who did not see the joy of the water-drawing celebration, has not seen joy in his life." Water has no taste and therefore does not require a bracha, unless one is drinking to satisfy his thirst. Water is Torah. Torah is our direct link to Gd. Our soul thirsts for Him. The fluid to grace the altar in the year's most joyous celebration of man's relationship to Gd, must be water. (4)
Another defining action for Sukkot is Arba Minim, the four kinds. This is also called bensching (blessing) Lulav. It is physically a bundle which includes 3 myrtle, 2 willow, and 1 palm branch (lulav) plus an etrog (citron), but it has many symbolic meanings. Held together in both hands it is waved every morning of the festival (except Shabbat) in the sukkah, facing East, in the six directions... right, left, front, up, down and back (or according to your tradition). Hallel, Psalms 113-118, are sung everyday following Lulav. Each day special prayers for deliverance are recited and hakkafot (encircling processions) are made around a Torah Scroll removed fom the Ark for this purpose. The seventh day of the Festival is called Hoshanah Rabba, the great Hoshanah, on it seven processions are made. Hoshana Rabba is considered by some to be the last moment to appeal to HaShem to be writen into the Book of Life for the coming year.
Shemini Atzeret, the 8th day of completion or assembly, is a festival unto itself, it is not part of Sukkot. Thought to be the winter pilgrimage festival, is was tacked on at this time because when the Temple stood 'going up' to Jerusalem in the winter rains would have been prohibitive. (5) On Shemini Atzeret (in Israel, Simchat Torah and Shemini Atzeret are celebrated the same day, in the diaspora Simhat Torah is celebrated on the second day of Shemini Atzeret), we say the special prayer for rain: "for You are the Lrd our Gd, Who makes the wind to blow and the rain to fall; for blessing and not for curse; for life and not for death; for plenty and not for scarcity". (6) When the earth is blessed with water all the world's inhabitants are blessed". (7)
The Torah commands that every 7th year all the land shall lie fallow and there shall be a release or annulment of all debts. The Mishnah required that this assembly (hakhel) take place on the first day of Sukkot following the completion of a Shmitah or Sabbatical year. 2001 is such a year. Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh in his blessing for the New Year writes: "the letters that represent the coming year, 5762, may be seen as an acronym for the phrase "May it be a year of a sign of blessing." 5762 will be a "Hakhel"-year, the first of the seven-year sabbatical-cycle, in which the pilgrims of the Sukkot holiday would participate in a special ceremonial gathering at the Temple. Our sages said that "in the seventh year [of the sabbatical cycle] there will be wars, and when the seventh year goes out, the [Messiah, the] son of David will come." (8)
Rabbi Simon Jacobson says "before us lies the unprecedented ability to open a new chapter and introduce a new paradigm where our material existence is not an end in itself but a means for the sublime and the transcendent, a seamless fusion of matter and spirit. As the world trembles in this Rosh Hashana season, we should see these trembles as birth pangs preceding the birth of a new world. A time when there will be "no war nor strife," all nations will serve one G-d with one consent, and there will be "no more evil and no more destruction;for the world will be filled with Divine knowledge as the waters cover the sea. (9)
Spread over us Your Sukkah of Peace.
photos from the Sukkot Yerid (fair) in Mea Shearim, Jerusalem 1992 ChanaElsa
(1) "Seasons of Our Joy' Arthur I Waskow
(2) "The Joy of the Succah" Rabbi Shlomo Riskin from the Jerusalem Post
(3) The Week in Review Sept 25, 1999 Chabad-Lubavitch in Cyberspace Vol XI No 3
(4) The Week in Review Sept 28, 1996 Chabad-Lubavitch in Cyberspace Vol VIII No 3
(5) "Seasons of Our Joy' Arthur I Waskow
(6) "The Sukkah of Peace" Eliezer Shore for 'A Still Small Voice' 1988
(7) 'The Book of Our Heritage' Eliyahu Kitov
(8) "Special Edition:Today the World Trembles" Simon Jacobson Sept 2001
(9) "A Blessing for the Jewish New Year" Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh Sept 2001