Sukkot is known as the “Time of Happiness”
This weekend is the commencement of Sukkot.
Sukkot is one of the three major festivals in Judaism, and is both an agricultural festival of thanksgiving and a commemoration of the forty-year period during which the children of Israel wandered in the desert after leaving slavery in Egypt, living in temporary shelters as they travelled.
The tradition is to build a small shelter, known as a Sukkah, and spend the 7 days of the festival in it. Jews are asked to leave the material comfort of their homes, and build a structure that is imperfect, temporary and open to the elements. But the sukkah’s reminder that our existence is fragile helps us to treasure the joyous moments of life, and its outdoor location helps us focus on the beauty of God’s creation. In fact, the Sukkah has no roof – but instead is covered with greenery or bamboo, so that the stars can be seen at night. And, the sukkah is a gathering place, a place where it is traditional to welcome guests and enjoy spending time together.
You might also see some Jews walking in the street during Sukkot carrying an interesting collection of plants. These are the Arba’at Haminim, or the “Four Species”. It is made up of a long, swordlike palm branch flanked by willow and myrtle branches and bound together with dried palm leaves, accompanied by the fragrant etrog, which is a citrus fruit and looks like a bumpy lemon.
With the Four Species in hand, one recites a blessing and waves or shakes the species in all six directions (east, south, west, north, up and down) each day of the Sukkot holiday, thus symbolizing Divine presence everywhere. On a metaphorical level, each plant represents a different part of the body. The long straight palm branch suggests the spine while the myrtle leaf symbolizes the eye. The willow leaf embodies the mouth, and the etrog manifests the heart. As they shake the lulav and etrog, Jews remember to use all the parts of our body for good.
Chag sameach – a happy holiday! May your Sukkot holiday be one of joy, togetherness, and peace!