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Sukkot: The Festival of Booths
By Rabbi Shlomo Nachman © October 7, 2019

HaShem says at Leviticus 23:33:
33 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying,
לגוַיְדַבֵּ֥ר יְהֹוָ֖ה אֶל־משֶׁ֥ה לֵּאמֹֽר:

34 Speak to the children of Israel, saying: On the fifteenth day of this seventh month, is the Festival of Succoth, a seven day period to the Lord.
לדדַּבֵּ֛ר אֶל־בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל לֵאמֹ֑ר בַּֽחֲמִשָּׁ֨ה עָשָׂ֜ר י֗וֹם לַחֹ֤דֶשׁ הַשְּׁבִיעִי֙ הַזֶּ֔ה חַ֧ג הַסֻּכּ֛וֹת שִׁבְעַ֥ת יָמִ֖ים לַֽיהֹוָֽה:

35On the first day, it is a holy occasion; you shall not perform any work of labor.
להבַּיּ֥וֹם הָֽרִאשׁ֖וֹן מִקְרָא־קֹ֑דֶשׁ כָּל־מְלֶ֥אכֶת עֲבֹדָ֖ה לֹ֥א תַֽעֲשֽׂוּ:

36 [For] a seven day period, you shall bring a fire offering to the Lord. On the eighth day, it shall be a holy occasion for you, and you shall bring a fire offering to the Lord. It is a [day of] detention. You shall not perform any work of labor.
לושִׁבְעַ֣ת יָמִ֔ים תַּקְרִ֥יבוּ אִשֶּׁ֖ה לַֽיהֹוָ֑ה בַּיּ֣וֹם הַשְּׁמִינִ֡י מִקְרָא־קֹ֩דֶשׁ֩ יִֽהְיֶ֨ה לָכֶ֜ם וְהִקְרַבְתֶּ֨ם אִשֶּׁ֤ה לַֽיהֹוָה֙ עֲצֶ֣רֶת הִ֔וא כָּל־מְלֶ֥אכֶת עֲבֹדָ֖ה לֹ֥א תַֽעֲשֽׂוּ:

37 These are God's appointed [holy days] that you shall designate them as holy occasions, [on which] to offer up a fire offering to the Lord burnt offering and meal offering, sacrifice and libations, the requirement of each day on its day;
לזאֵ֚לֶּה מֽוֹעֲדֵ֣י יְהֹוָ֔ה אֲשֶׁר־תִּקְרְא֥וּ אֹתָ֖ם מִקְרָאֵ֣י קֹ֑דֶשׁ לְהַקְרִ֨יב אִשֶּׁ֜ה לַֽיהֹוָ֗ה עֹלָ֧ה וּמִנְחָ֛ה זֶ֥בַח וּנְסָכִ֖ים דְּבַר־י֥וֹם בְּיוֹמֽוֹ:

38 apart from the Lord's Sabbaths, and apart from your gifts, and apart from all your vows, and apart from all your donations that you give to the Lord.
לחמִלְּבַ֖ד שַׁבְּתֹ֣ת יְהֹוָ֑ה וּמִלְּבַ֣ד מַתְּנֽוֹתֵיכֶ֗ם וּמִלְּבַ֤ד כָּל־נִדְרֵיכֶם֙ וּמִלְּבַד֙ כָּל־נִדְבֹ֣תֵיכֶ֔ם אֲשֶׁ֥ר תִּתְּנ֖וּ לַֽיהֹוָֽה:

39 But on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you gather in the produce of the land, you shall celebrate the festival of the Lord for a seven day period; the first day shall be a rest day, and the eighth day shall be a rest day.
לטאַ֡ךְ בַּֽחֲמִשָּׁה֩ עָשָׂ֨ר י֜וֹם לַחֹ֣דֶשׁ הַשְּׁבִיעִ֗י בְּאָסְפְּכֶם֙ אֶת־תְּבוּאַ֣ת הָאָ֔רֶץ תָּחֹ֥גּוּ אֶת־חַג־יְהֹוָ֖ה שִׁבְעַ֣ת יָמִ֑ים בַּיּ֤וֹם הָֽרִאשׁוֹן֙ שַׁבָּת֔וֹן וּבַיּ֥וֹם הַשְּׁמִינִ֖י שַׁבָּתֽוֹן:

40 And you shall take for yourselves on the first day, the fruit of the hadar tree, date palm fronds, a branch of a braided tree, and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God for a seven day period.
מוּלְקַחְתֶּ֨ם לָכֶ֜ם בַּיּ֣וֹם הָֽרִאשׁ֗וֹן פְּרִ֨י עֵ֤ץ הָדָר֙ כַּפֹּ֣ת תְּמָרִ֔ים וַֽעֲנַ֥ף עֵֽץ־עָבֹ֖ת וְעַרְבֵי־נָ֑חַל וּשְׂמַחְתֶּ֗ם לִפְנֵ֛י יְהֹוָ֥ה אֱלֹֽהֵיכֶ֖ם שִׁבְעַ֥ת יָמִֽים:

41 And you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord for seven days in the year. [It is] an eternal statute throughout your generations [that] you celebrate it in the seventh month.
מאוְחַגֹּתֶ֤ם אֹתוֹ֙ חַ֣ג לַֽיהֹוָ֔ה שִׁבְעַ֥ת יָמִ֖ים בַּשָּׁנָ֑ה חֻקַּ֤ת עוֹלָם֙ לְדֹרֹ֣תֵיכֶ֔ם בַּחֹ֥דֶשׁ הַשְּׁבִיעִ֖י תָּחֹ֥גּוּ אֹתֽוֹ:

42 For a seven day period you shall live in booths. Every resident among the Israelites shall live in booths,
מבבַּסֻּכֹּ֥ת תֵּֽשְׁב֖וּ שִׁבְעַ֣ת יָמִ֑ים כָּל־הָֽאֶזְרָח֙ בְּיִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל יֵֽשְׁב֖וּ בַּסֻּכֹּֽת:

43 in order that your [ensuing] generations should know that I had the children of Israel live in booths when I took them out of the land of Egypt. I am the Lord, your God.
מגלְמַ֘עַן֘ יֵֽדְע֣וּ דֹרֹֽתֵיכֶם֒ כִּ֣י בַסֻּכּ֗וֹת הוֹשַׁ֨בְתִּי֙ אֶת־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל בְּהֽוֹצִיאִ֥י אוֹתָ֖ם מֵאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרָ֑יִם אֲנִ֖י יְהֹוָ֥ה אֱלֹֽהֵיכֶֽם:

44 And Moses told the children of Israel [these laws] of the Lord's appointed [holy days]. מדוַיְדַבֵּ֣ר משֶׁ֔ה אֶת־מֹֽעֲדֵ֖י יְהֹוָ֑ה אֶל־בְּנֵ֖י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל:
Here is the Scriptural foundation of this observance.

Who is commanded to observe Sukkot? Israel, the Jews. There is no commandment for others to observe it (see below for a possible exception).

Sukkot begins with a yom tov, a holy day, treated like a Shabbat:

Sukkot lasts for seven days. The eighth day, like the first, is a yom tov which is to be treated as a Shabbat of rest:

Sukkot stands alone in its observes, sandwiched between two holy days of rest:

Note the direct connection between Sukkot and the sacred number seven. Sukkot is sandwiched on either end by a Shabbat, a day of rest. It occurs during Tishrei, the seventh Hebrew month and lasts for seven days.

Of the first day Rashi notes:

a holy occasion: [This expression mentioned in connection with Yom Kippur, means that you are to] sanctify it [the day] through [wearing] clean garments and through prayer, while [this expression mentioned in connection] with the other holy days, [means] sanctify it with food and drink, through [wearing] clean clothes and through [their own special] prayers. — [See Torath Kohanim 23:186] [Note that this Rashi belongs on verse 27. Therefore, it is obvious that it is referring to Yom Kippur, and the words, בְּיוֹם הַכִּפּוּרים are completely unnecessary. Since the copyists believed it to be on verse 35, which deals with Succoth, they found it necessary to insert those words. See Divrei David.]

This elevates the "holy occasion" with the level of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Sukkot (and Simchat Torah) mark the conclusion of the High Holy Days for practical purposes. Sukkot therefore is a major observance.

On verse 36 Rashi notes:

It is a [day of] detention: [i.e., God says to Israel,] “I have detained you [to remain] with Me.” This is analogous to a king who invited his sons to feast with him for a certain number of days, and when the time came for them to leave, he said: “My sons! Please, stay with me just one more day, [for] it is difficult for me to part with you!” [Similarly, after the seven days of Succoth, God “detains” Israel for one extra holy day.]

[you shall not perform] any work of labor: [I.e.,] even such work that is considered labor for you, that, if not done, would cause a monetary loss [is prohibited].

you shall not perform: One might think that even during the intermediate days of the Festival, work of labor is [also] prohibited. Scripture, therefore says here, “ It [is a day of detention,” [i.e., only on this eighth day is work prohibited, and not on the preceding weekdays of the Festival, when such work, which, if postponed, would cause a monetary loss, is permitted]. — [Torath Kohanim 23:187]

On verse 39 Rashi notes:

when you gather in the produce of the land: [This teaches us] that this seventh month must occur at the time of ingathering, [namely, in the fall]. From here, [we learn] that they were commanded to proclaim leap years [i.e., to add an extra, thirteenth month to the lunar year], for if there were no leap years, [the lunar years would eventually no longer coincide with the solar years, and] sometimes [the seventh month] would occur in midsummer or midwinter [not in the time of ingathering]. - [Torath Kohanim 23:192]

In the absence of the Jerusalem Temple, the Beit HaMikdash, our sacrifices are made through prayers of repentance and gratitude to HaShem. As said at Hosea 14:2,3:

Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God, for you have stumbled in your iniquity.
Take words with yourselves and return to the Lord. Say, "You shall forgive all iniquity and teach us [the] good [way], and let us render [for] bulls [the offering of] our lips.

And again, from Isaiah 1:

... Of what use are your many sacrifices to Me? says the Lord. I am sated with the burnt-offerings of rams and the fat of fattened cattle; and the blood of bulls and sheep and he goats I do not want. When you come to appear before Me, who requested this of you, to trample My courts? You shall no longer bring vain meal-offerings, it is smoke of abomination to Me; New Moons and Sabbaths, calling convocations, I cannot [bear] iniquity with assembly....

Wash, cleanse yourselves, remove the evil of your deeds from before My eyes, cease to do evil. Learn to do good, seek justice, strengthen the robbed, perform justice for the orphan, plead the case of the widow. Come now, let us debate, says the Lord. If your sins prove to be like crimson, they will become white as snow; if they prove to be as red as crimson dye, they shall become as wool. If you be willing and obey, you shall eat the best of the land. But if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword, for the mouth of the Lord spoke.

Since we have (hopefully) just made teshuvah and received forgiveness from HaShem on Yom Kippur and have been granted clean slates, during Sukkot we are symbolically like the Israelites who traveled and lived in sukkot after receiving the Torah at Har Sinai. This seven day celebration is therefore to be a most joyous time. We have "gathered in" the results of the previous year. During the month of Elul we sought to purify our offerings, on Rosh Hashanah we presented our offerings to HaShem and on Yom Kippur he He passed judgement on them and rectified us to Himself. The Harvest is now in and we are now free to relax and rejoice in His Mercy. To me, this is the real meaning of Sukkot. Of course, once we pass through Simcha Torah our trek will resume. For now however, let us rejoice!

The correct place for this rejoicing is the sukkah, as stated at verse 42:

For a seven day period you shall live in booths [i.e. in sukkot: plural of “ukkah or booth/hut]. Every resident among the Israelites shall live in a “ukkah

As stated at the outset, Sukkot is given only to the Jews. Notice what Rashi says about verse 42 however:

resident: Hebrew הָאֶזְרָח, [lit., "the resident." The definite article here] signifies a resident [of the people of Israel, namely, a native Jew. Therefore, the next seemingly superfluous expression, namely,] among the Israelites Comes to include converts [in this commandment] — [sukkah 28b].

As Rashi notes, the seeming restatement seems odd. It means that someone other than the Jews are permitted (even expected perhaps) to dwell in sukkot. To this end Rashi says it include "the convert" or הגרים and yet once the gur formally converts he/she is no longer a gur but an Israelite like all others (Leviticus 24:22). Here then the reference must be to those who are coming to the Jewish people but who are not yet of the Jewish people. As we have discussed elsewhere, those Gentiles who are currently seeking the G-d of Israel are different from the ger tzadikim (Righteous Gentiles) referenced in the Torah, however when applying this text to modern realities I see here permission (at the least) for Noahidim to erect and live in sukkot during this festival. Not all rabbis will agree with my assessment.

This debatable permission for the Noahidim to dwell in sukkot does not include the ritual practice described in verse 40:

And you shall take for yourselves on the first day, the fruit of the hadar tree, date palm fronds, a branch of a braided tree, and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God for a seven day period.

This rite is directly tied to Sukkot as a mandated harvest festival of Israel. Only Jews are to take part in it. Rashi clarifies the practice:

the fruit of the hadar tree: [Scripture could have simply said, “ hadar fruit.” Since it adds the word “tree,” next to “fruit,” it teaches us that it is] a tree whose wood has the same taste as its fruit. — [sukkah 35a] [Note that, according to Rambam, the fruit known in Aramaic as “ethrog,” is known in Hebrew as “ hadar.”

hadar: [Refers to a fruit] “that resides (הַדָּר) ” on its tree from one year to the next, which is the ethrog. — [sukkah 35a]

date-palm fronds: Heb. כַּפֹּת תְּמָרִים. [The word כַּפֹּת is written here with] a missing “vav” (ו) [thus implying the singular rather than the plural]. This teaches us that only one [date-palm frond is to be taken]. — [sukkah 32a]

a branch of a braided tree: [A tree] whose branches עֲנָפָיו are braided like cords עֲבוֹתוֹת and like ropes. And Scripture is referring here specifically to the הֲדַס (myrtle) tree, which is made in a braided-like form. — [sukkah 32b]

This festival and its ritual components are part of our Eternal Covenant to be observed throughout our generations:

And you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord for seven days in the year. [It is] an eternal statute throughout your generations [that] you celebrate it in the seventh month. For a seven day period you shall live in booths. Every resident among the Israelites shall live in booths, in order that your [ensuing] generations should know that I had the children of Israel live in booths when I took them out of the land of Egypt. I am the Lord, your God.

And Moses told the children of Israel [these laws] of the Lord's appointed [holy days].

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov is clear that when a person transgresses the Laws of HaShem, a shadow or darkness results between that person and HaShem. His Light is further blocked from us. This results in feeling of isolation, loneliness and unhappiness. This shadow is blocks the divine Light from reaching our consciousness. Our desire for devekut or attachment with G-d seems more and more unattainable. As a result our emunah fades and we wander seemingly alone as blind people in the darkness of this world.

Yom Kippur cleanses our consciousness and removes the klippot of darkness from our hearts and minds. In this cleansed state all blockages and layers are removed and we see the Light of G-d more clearly than at any other time of year, assuming we have taken the medicine of the months of Elul and Tishrei.

Learn the following lesson from our Rebbe well:

Behold, the shadow comes from a material thing standing opposite a spiritual thing [i.e., something which is more ethereal than it]. For example, the materiality of a tree or a stone opposite the light [of the sun or the moon] casts a shadow. Likewise, a solar or lunar eclipse [is] because of the earth’s shadow. And also the sun itself, vis-à-vis that which is above it, is material and casts a shadow opposite it.

Likewise, a person identifies with the material side of his nature and deeds rather than with his spiritual side. By doing this one makes a shadow within himself. This darkness blocks him from G-d's Light and the influx of His bounty. But if a person nullifies himself so that he is not at all part of this world, then, he does not make a shadow and he receives the Light of G-d.

And the essence of the Light of God is Glory, because all that the Holy One created, He created only for His Glory. As it is written [at Isaiah 43:7], "I have created it all for My Glory… -- Likutey Moharan 172:1

On Yom Kippur HaShem released us from the confining bonds of material existence! What we will do with this freedom is up to us. We can take advantage of HaShem's Mercy and seek only His Light, or we can return to the mire and muck of material existence and re-attach ourselves there. We begin this process during the observance of Sukkot!

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