Feast of Tabernacles


Sukkah Booth
The Feast of Tabernacles
Image:Sukkah Booth

Picture courtesy of Shalom Kiwi

Sukkot (Hebrew: "Feast of Booths," "Feast of Tabernacles," or "Feast of the Ingathering") is a Jewish holiday taking place on the 15th day of the month of Tishri, five days after Yom Kippur (in September or October). Originally an agricultural festival meant to thank God for a successful harvest, and one of the 3 great pilgrimage festivals, to remind Jews of the 40 years God provided for them in the wilderness. Sukkot is a joyous 7 to 8 day celebration with a wide variety of accompanying traditions. It starts tonight at sunset and the most important part if you are going to celebrate Sukkot tonight is that today you need to build a sukkah (Hebrew: "booth"), a small hut representing both the dwellings that ancient farmers would live in during the harvest months and also the temporary dwellings (tents) used by Moses and the Israelites as they wandered in the desert for 40 years. So really, you could think of it as going camping for a week.

Sukkot is a joyous holiday and a time of great celebration for all Jews! In fact, Sukkot is so closely associated with happy emotions that traditional sources often call it Z'man Simchateinu (Hebrew:"the Season of our Rejoicing"). For the seven days of Sukkot, Jews are encouraged to celebrate God's role in their lives and rejoice in the good fortune of the past year. Sukkot should be a happy time spent with your friends and family, so be ready to let go of any negative thoughts or feelings in preparation for the holiday. Aim to be upbeat, positive, and thankful to God for the entire week. But not just Jews are now celebrating Sukkot; last year thousands of people marched in a Parade of Nations for Sukkot - sponsored by the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem, showing Christian support and love for Israel.

So Build a Sukkah

This lightly-constructed booth can be made from many different types of materials as long as it is able to stand up to the wind. The roof of the Sukkah is traditionally made from leaves, branches, and other plant matter. Sukkah are usually decorated on the inside with drawings and religious symbols (Many have christmas decorations and tinsel hanging from the ceiling). In the book of Leviticus, Jews are instructed to dwell in the Sukkah for all seven days of the Sukkot holiday. In a modern context, most take this to mean centering family gatherings around the sukkah and eating meals inside it, though some devout Jews will even sleep in it.

Gather the 4 kinds

The observers of the holiday ritually wave a collection of branches, including the lulav and the 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. Here in New Zealand I think God would give us some leeway and substitutes would be totally acceptable (like a lemon or grapefruit instead of a etrog). The most important thing to remember is to have fun camping out with your family and having stories, round a campfire in the evening, especailly ones about Israel's 40 years in the wilderness.

The holiday lasts for a week but the first two days are considered the most Holy, and most Jews will take these two days off work like on Shabbat (Sabbath), most forms of work are to be avoided as a show of reverence to God. Instead you should spend time in prayer and celebrating with your family. On the first 2 days (the first of which starts at Sunset tonight) special prayers are said and the Hallel is recited (Psalm 113-118).