Opinion

Sukkot 2021: A guide for the perplexed

Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles, is a national Jewish liberation holiday and emphasizes humility and the yearning for peace.

Students from the Orot Etzion school decorate a sukkah at the  Oz veGaon Nature Preserve near the Gush Etzion junction, Sept. 19, 2021. Photo by Gershon Elinson/Flash90.
Students from the Orot Etzion school decorate a sukkah at the Oz veGaon Nature Preserve near the Gush Etzion junction, Sept. 19, 2021. Photo by Gershon Elinson/Flash90.
Yoram Ettinger
Yoram Ettinger
Yoram Ettinger is a former ambassador and head of Second Thought: A U.S.-Israel Initiative.

1. Sukkot (Sept. 21-27) commemorates the Exodus and is named for the first stop during the Israelites’ 40-year sojourn in the desert: the town of Sukkot, as documented in Exodus 13:20-22 and Numbers 33:3-5. This holiday underscores the gradual transition from the spirituality of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur to the rest of the year. The construction of the Holy Tabernacle, during the Exodus, was launched on the first day of Sukkot (full moon).

2. Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles, is a national Jewish liberation holiday. It is the third Jewish pilgrimage holiday (following Passover and Shavuot-Pentecost), and highlights faith and optimism, commemorating the transition of the Jewish people from bondage in Egypt to liberty and sovereignty in the Land of Israel.

3. The roots of the Hebrew word Sukkot are wholeness and totality (סכ), shelter (סכך) and attentiveness (סכת). The numerical value of סכך (every Hebrew letter has a numerical value) is 100 (ס=60, כ=20, ך=20), representing the totality/unity of the Jewish people, history, roots, education and legacy.

4. The seven days of Sukkot are dedicated to seven monumental, principle-driven leaders, who were compassionate and brave shepherds: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron and David. They were endowed with faith, reality-based optimism, humility, compassion, tenacity in the face of daunting odds, courage and peace through strength.

Sukkot expresses gratitude for the “seven species” of the Land of Israel: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates (Deuteronomy 8:8).

Sukkot accentuates the seven weeks between the beginning of the Exodus (Passover) and the receipt of the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai (Shavuot).

5. Sukkot features (Leviticus 23:40) one citron (representing King David, the author of Psalms), one palm branch (representing Joseph), three myrtle branches (representing the three Patriarchs) and two willow branches (representing Moses and Aaron), which are bonded together, representing the unity-through-diversity of the Jewish people.

These four species represent the agricultural regions of the Land of Israel: the southern Negev and Arava (palm), the slopes of the northern Golan Heights, Upper Galilee and Mount Carmel (myrtle), the streams of the central mountains of Judea and Samaria (willow) and the western coastal plain (citron).

They also represent four leadership prerequisites: backbone (palm branch), humility (willow), a compassionate heart (citron) and penetrating eyes (myrtle).

The palm branch, an ancient symbol of victory, was featured on coins from the Maccabees’ era (from the second century BCE through the first century C.E.) and the Bar Kokhba rebellion (132-135 C.E.).  According to the First Book of Maccabees, Chapter 13, Simon the Maccabee celebrated the retaking of the David Citadel in Jerusalem with drums, harps and palm branches.

6. Sukkot emphasizes humility, as demonstrated by the seven-day relocation from one’s permanent residence to the temporary, humble, wooden booth (sukkah), which sheltered the people of Israel during the Exodus.

7. Sukkot expresses the yearning for universal peace, highlighting the Sukkah of Peace (Sukkat Shalom).

Yoram Ettinger is a former ambassador and head of Second Thought: A U.S.-Israel Initiative.

This article was first published by The Ettinger Report.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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