Sukkot (pronounced Sue coat), is the plural of sukkah, which means "booths" or "huts" in Hebrew. Sukkot is a fall harvest holiday that comes after Rosh Hashanah and 5 days after Yom Kippur. Sukkot is also known as the Feast of the Booths or by some as the Feast of Tabernacles. Although, I personally don’t like to call it the Feast of Tabernacles. This is a bit misleading, because the word "tabernacle" in the Bible was a portable sanctuary that the Israelites carried with them in the wilderness which was a precursor to the Temple. We see this in Exodus 25:8-9 - Have them construct a sanctuary for Me, so that I may dwell among them. According to all that I am going to show you as the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furniture, so you shall construct it. The Hebrew word "sukkah" (plural sukkot) refers to the temporary booths that people lived in, not to the Tabernacle. Sukkot commemorates the forty-year period when the children of Israel were wandering in the desert, living in temporary shelters (Lev 23:33–43). During the time of the feast, each Israelite family was supposed to construct a booth, or sukkah, and live in it for a week.
Leviticus 23:33-43 says: Again the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the sons of Israel, saying, ‘On the fifteenth of this seventh month is the Feast of Booths for seven days to the Lord. On the first day is a holy convocation; you shall not do any laborious work. For seven days you shall present an offering by fire to the Lord. On the eighth day you shall have a holy convocation and present an offering by fire to the Lord; it is an assembly. You shall not do any laborious work. ‘These are the appointed times of the Lord which you shall proclaim as holy convocations, to present offerings by fire to the Lord—burnt offerings and grain offerings, sacrifices and drink offerings, each day’s matter on its own day— besides those of the Sabbaths of the Lord, and besides your gifts and besides all your vowed and voluntary offerings, which you give to the Lord. ‘On exactly the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the crops of the land, you shall celebrate the feast of the Lord for seven days, with a rest on the first day and a rest on the eighth day. Now on the first day you shall take for yourselves the foliage of beautiful trees, palm branches and branches of trees with thick branches and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days. So you shall celebrate it as a feast to the Lord for seven days in the year. It shall be a permanent statute throughout your generations; you shall celebrate it in the seventh month. You shall live in booths for seven days; all the native-born in Israel shall live in booths, so that your generations may know that I had the sons of Israel live in booths when I brought them out from the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.’”
Yes, this is a long scripture. But, it gives us Sukkot in a nutshell. We see that Sukkot begins on the 15th of the seventh month, or the 15th day of the Jewish month of Tishrei. We also see here that this feast lasts for 7 days. We are to have a Sabbath rest on the first day and the last day. We shall live in booths for seven days and this is a permanent statute throughout your generations. Some Bible versions say you shall dwell in booths. This all sounds pretty straight forward and it is very clear that this is a permanent statute throughout your generations, meaning yes, we are still supposed to do this to today.
So, how do we do this today in our modern world? Well, it is not much different that it would have been back in the days of the Israelites wondering in the desert. Except for most of us, we are not living in a desert. Sukkot is celebrated today by people living in houses, in apartments, or just about any setting. Traditionally people start building a sukkah as soon as possible after the end of Yom Kippur. A sukkah must be built in the open air under the sky, it must have at least three sides and a covering, usually made of cut branches or plants. The covering must be loose enough to see the stars at night, but thick enough so that the shades you from the Sun. It is customary to decorate your sukkah with hangings, artwork, and home-made decorations. Have fun with it! Besides building and dwelling in a sukkah, which of course is one of the most important holiday traditions for Sukkot. On the first day of Sukkot, we should wave a lulav and an etrog in all directions. A lulav is a bouquet made from a single palm leaf, two willow branches and three myrtle branches, held together by woven leaves. An etrog is a citron, a lemon-like fruit grown in Israel. The etrog must have the stem in place if you want it to be kosher. To perform the ritual, hold the lulav in your right hand and the etrog in your left and say a Bracha blessing over them. The blessing is: “Barukh atah Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha’olam asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu al netilat lulav.” (“Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments and has commanded us concerning the waving of the lulav.”) Then shake them in the six directions: north, south, east, west, up, and down, symbolizing God's presence everywhere. Our understanding as a family is, the particular order is not important. It is simply important to wave your lulav. Again, have fun with this. Enjoy your time with family and or friends. Remember this is a time of the Fall festival season when we just finished Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. This is a time when we just spent the last several weeks mending our relationships through these holidays. Now it’s time to enjoy those improved relationships! Sukkot is a great time to practice the mitzvah (commandment) of Hachnasat Orchim, (welcoming guests and hospitality). Sukkot is a joyful holiday, a time when we focus on the simple pleasure of being close to nature and with family and friends. Deuteronomy 16:13-15 says: You shall celebrate the Feast of Booths seven days after you have gathered in from your threshing floor and your wine vat; and you shall rejoice in your feast, you and your son and your daughter and your male and female servants and the Levite and the stranger and the orphan and the widow who are in your towns. Seven days you shall celebrate a feast to the Lord your God in the place which the Lord chooses, because the Lord your God will bless you in all your produce and in all the work of your hands, so that you will be altogether joyful. So, enjoy this time of celebration with friends, family and even strangers.