Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Sukkot: Selected Readings

"Awake, awake, O Zion, clothe yourself with strength. Put on your garments of splendor, O Jerusalem, the holy city. The uncircumcised and defiled will not enter you again," (Isaiah 52:1)

PREFACE:  If you examine these readings about Sukkot then you should have a good grasp on its Biblical origins, its rationales, its customs, etc.  The relevance of Sukkot to "One Law" should be self-evident.  However, I'll eventually do a separate post explaining the significance of Sukkot for One Law.

FROM:  The Sukkot and Simchat Torah Anthology by Goodman

pg. 1  "The festival of Sukkot is rooted in the Bible, which delineates its basic laws and recounts the historical events related to it.  According to the Pentateuch, Hag ha-Sukkot (Feast of Booths) or Hag ha-Asif (Feast of Ingathering), as the holiday is alternately termed, is one of the three festivals on which the Israelites were enjoined to make a pilgrimage to the chosen place in Jerusalem.  It prescribes the manner of observance--dwelling in booths, prohibition of work on the first and eighth days, offering sacrifices, use of the Four Species, and rejoicing over the harvest.
The people were commanded to assemble and hear the reading of the Law of Moses every seventh year, on the Feast of Booths.
The dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem during the reign of King Solomon took place on Sukkot, and this historic event is described in detail in 1 Kings and 2 Chronicles.  First Kings also describes the rebellion of Jeroboam against Rehoboam, King Solomon's successor.  To show his independence, Jeroboam, among other changes, moved the date for the commemoration of the feast.
The biblical books of Ezra and Nehemiah contain accounts of the reinstitution of the celebration of Sukkot in Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile.
The prophet Zechariah foresaw a period when all nations will worship one God and will observe the Feast of Booths.  The idea of a universal religious brotherhood is confirmed in the rabbinic dictum:  'On the Feast of Tabernacles, the Israelites offered seventy bullocks for the seventy nations of the world' (Midrash Tanhuma on Pinhas).

"Three times a year you shall hold a festival for Me:  You shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread--eating unleavened bread for seven days as I have commanded you--at the set time in the month of Abib, for in it you went forth from Egypt; and none shall appear before Me empty-handed; and the Feast of the Harvest, of the first fruits of your work, of what you sow in the field; and the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you gather in the results of your work from the field."  Exodus 23.14-16

"After the ingathering from your threshing floor and your vat, you shall hold the Feast of Booths for seven days.  You shall rejoice in your festival, with your son and daughter, your male and female slave, the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow in your communities.  You shall hold festival for the Lord your God seven days, in the place that the Lord will choose; for the Lord your God will bless all your crops and all your undertakings, and you shall have nothing but joy.  Three times a year--on the Feast of Unleavened Bread, on the Feast of Weeks, and on the Feast of Booths--all your males shall appear before the Lord your God in the place that He will choose.  They shall not appear before the Lord empty-handed, but each with his own gift, according to the blessing that the Lord your God has bestowed upon you."  Deuteronomy 16.13-17


The Lord spoke to Moses, saying:  Say to the Israelite people:
On the fifteenth day of this seventh month, there shall be the Feast of Booths to the Lord, [to last] seven days.  The first day shall be a sacred occasion:  you shall not work at your occupations; seven days you shall bring offerings by fire to the Lord.  On the eighth day you shall observe a sacred occasion and bring an offering by fire to the Lord; it is a solemn gathering:  you shall not work at your occupations....
Mark, on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the yield of your land, you shall observe the festival of the Lord [to last] seven days:  a complete rest on the first day, and a complete rest on the eighth day.  On the first day you shall take the product of goodly trees, branches of palm trees, boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days.  You shall observe it as a festival of the Lord for seven days in the year; you shall observe it in the seventh month as a law for all time, throughout the generations.  You shall live in booths seven days;  all citizens in Israel shall live in booths, in order that future generations may know that I made the Israelite people live in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I the Lord your God.
So Moses declared to the Israelites the set times of the Lord."  Leviticus 23.33-36, 39-44.

"Moses wrote down this Teaching and gave it to the priests, sons of Levi, who carried the Ark of the Lord's Covenant, and to the elders of Israel.
And Moses instructed them as follows:  Every seventh year, the year set for remission, at the Feast of Booths, when all Israel comes to appear before the Lord your God in the place which He will choose, you shall read this Teaching aloud in the presence of all Israel.  Gather the people--men, women, children, and the strangers in your communities--that they may hear and so learn to revere the Lord your God and to observe faithfully every word of the Teaching.  Their children, too, who have not had the experience, shall hear and learn to revere the Lord your God as long as they live in the land which you are about to cross the Jordan to occupy."  Deuteronomy 31.9-13.

Then Solomon assembled the elders of Israel, and all the heads of the tribes, the princes of the fathers' houses of the children of Israel, unto king Solomon in Jerusalem, to bring up the ark of the covenant of the Lord out of the city of David, which is Zion.  And all the men of Israel assembled themselves unto king Solomon at the Feast [of Booths] in the month Ethanim, which is the seventh month.  And all the elders of Israel came, and the priests took up the ark.  And they brought up the ark of the Lord, and the tent of meeting, and all the holy vessels that were in the Tent; even these did the priests and the Levites bring up.  And king Solomon and all the congregation of Israel, that were assembled unto him, were with him before the ark, sacrificing sheep and oxen, that could not be told nor numbered for multitude."  1 Kings 8.1-5.



And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations that came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles.  And it shall be, that whoso of the families of the earth goeth not up unto Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, upon them there shall be no rain.  And if the family of Egypt go not up, and come not, they shall have no overflow; there shall be the plague, wherewith the Lord will smite the nations that go not up to keep the feast of tabernacles.  This shall be the punishment of Egypt, and the punishment of all the nations that go not up to keep the feast of tabernacles."  Zechariah 14.16-19.



"....It is the duty of the king to read before the people, the reading to take place in the Women's Court of the Temple.  He can read while sitting, but it is deemed praiseworthy if he reads while standing.  He reads from the beginning of the Book of Deuteronomy....
In what manner is the reading done?  They blow the trumpets throughout Jerusalem and erect a large, wooden platform in the center of the Women's Court.  The king seats himself upon it so that his reading could be heard, and all Israelites who have made the pilgrimage for the festival gather about him.  The minister of the synagogue takes a Scroll of the Torah and gives it to the chief of the synagogue, and the chief of the synagogue gives it to the prefect, and the prefect gives it to the high priest, and the high priest gives it to the king.  This procedure is followed in order to honor the Torah in the presence of the multitude of people.  The king receives the Scroll while standing, and, if he wishes, seats himself, and opens the Scroll and pronounces the benediction customarily recited by all who read from the Torah in the synagogue.  He then reads the chapters indicated above and pronounces the closing benediction as it is customarily recited in the synagogue.  Following that he adds seven benedictions....
This commandment is to be observed at the time that Israel is upon its land."  Sefer ha-Hinukh 612. 

FROM:  The Minhagim by Chill


Pg. 223  "The Jew begins the celebration of all other holidays by reciting the Kiddush.  On Sukkot, however, when he enters his sukkah he begins not with the Kiddush but with the Kabbalah-inspired custom of inviting the Ushpizin, the guests.  Who are these guests who are invited to join him in the sukkah?  Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron and David.  Each day, as he enters the sukkah, he welcomes one of these seven great ancestors."

"Why are these seven singled out for this honor? ....[W]e invite these exalted and noble guests as an exhibition of the supreme contribution that they made to the welfare of mankind.  Abraham invited every stranger into his home.  He taught each on of them the meaning of loving-kindness.  Isaac was prepared to submit himself to be offered to God as a sacrifice.  He exemplified unparalleled heroism and commitment to God.  In willingly accepting menial labor, Jacob displayed the quality of humity.  Joseph overcame the drive of his passions in the incident with the wife of Potiphar.  He taught the world a lesson that man, if he so desires, can conquer his basest instincts.  Moses and Aaron exemplified the concept of service to God.  Without the illumination of these two contributions, the world would be in darkness until this very day.  Finally, David, the Psalmist and Sweet Singer of Israel, established a dynasty which ruled in the past and will rule in the future with untainted justice and awe-inspiring dignity."  

[Arba'ah Minim:  the Four Species]

pg. 226  "In addition to the observance of the mitzvah of dwelling in the sukkah with respect to eating, drinking and sleeping there, we perform during this period the ritual of the Arba'ah Minim, the 'Four Species.' ....The fruit of goodly trees [Lev. 23:39-41] is identified as the Etrog; branches of palm trees, the Lulav; the boughs of thick trees, the myrtle (Hadas); willows of the brook, twigs of the willow tree (Avravot).

[General reason for this mitzvah:]

pg. "...Sukkot occurs in the fall on the threshold of the rainy season.  Rainfall is vital for human existence:  if it is abundant it means prosperity;  should there be drought, famine is the result.  The Four Species are especially dependent on rain for their growth.  Holding them in our hands we beseech God to grant us sufficient rain just as He did for these plants."

FROM:   The Biblical and Historical Background of Jewish Customs and Ceremonies by Bloch


Pilgrimages to the Sanctuary were essential to the survival of Judaism.  In the absence of synagogues, schools, and influential local religious leaders, it was important to maintain physical contact between the people and the ecclesiastic leadership of the Temple.  Jerusalem was not only the religious and cultural capital of the nation but also its political center.  The pilgrimages to Jerusalem helped keep ancient traditions alive and also enhanced national solidarity.
While the purpose of pilgrimages is self-understood, one may still wonder what was the reason for three annual pilgrimages and why they were timed with the three festivals....
The answer to this question must be sought in the context of the unremitting struggle of monotheism against pervasive paganism.  The celebration of Passover was central to that contest.  The paschal lamb was an annual reminder of an ancient decisive triumph over idolatry (Exod. 12:12).  The reinactment of the Passover pageantry also served as a reaffirmation of the ancient covenant which God had concluded with the exodus generation (Lev. 26:45).  The paschal lamb, like all sacrificial offerings, could not be slaughtered beyond the precincts of the Temple (Deut. 16:5).  For that reason alone, it was necessary to proclaim Passover a pilgrimage festival.
The uprooting of pagan practices also motivated the selection of the other agricultural festivals for pilgrimages to Jerusalem.  The seasons of harvest and ingathering were occasions for folk celebrations in many parts of the ancient world.  Most of them were characterized by excessive feasting, orgies, and pagan rites.  There is an indirect allusion in the Bible to one of these repulsive customs.  The proclamation of the pilgrimage festivals is followed by a commandment to bring the bikkurim to the Temple and the admonition 'Thou shalt not seethe a kid in its mother's milk' (Exod. 23:19, 34:26).  According to Maimonides, the admonition was motivated by the need to uproot the revolting pagan custom of serving kids boiled in their mother's mild at harvest feasts....
The utilization of the pilgrimage as an important weapon against paganism is reflected in the sequence of the twenty-third chapter of Exodus.  The portion which proclaims the three pilgrimage festivals is concluded with the warning:  'Thou shalt make no covenant with them [the native heathens], nor with their idols' (32)....the purpose of the pilgrimage festivals is to reinforce the faith and reaffirm the covenant with God."
[What the Sukkah illustrates:]

pg. 189


The sukkah is a memorial to the shelter which God provided in the desert to protect the Jews from the heat of the sun.  Only a people which had experience the broiling desert sun and the debilitation of a tropical climate can appreciate the life-saving qualities of shade....


The sukkah must become one's 'home' for the duration of the holiday.  Al functions normally performed in a home, such as eating and sleeping, must take place in the sukkah.  To give a sukkah the appearance and atmosphere of a home, one should move fine furnishings and dishes into it.  Beautifying the sukkah with fruits is a custom which dates back to talmudic times.  


The sukkah, a memorial to the movable sukkot in the desert, must not take on the appearance of a permanent home.  A solid ceiling disqualifies a sukkah.  The covering is designed to screen out the sun but it must not block the visibility of the stars.  Despite the temporary nature of the sukkah, it must be sturdy enough to withstand ordinary winds and to last at least for seven days.


If one suffers physical or mental discomfort in a sukkah, he is exempt from the obligation of dwelling in it (Sukkah 25b).  The sukkah, a memorial to God's protection, is designed to enhance the joy of the festival.  If the element of joy is missing, the mitzvah of dwelling in a sukkah is suspended....


The identity of the four species was transmitted by oral tradition, dating back to the earliest period of Jewish history.  The species are indigenous to the Holy Land and were readily obtainable for the performance of the ritual.
The biblical description of the species is vague, and the talmudic sages had to reconcile the oral tradition with the biblical terminology.  The four species are described in the text as follows:  'And you shall take on the first day the fruit of the tree of hadar ['pleasant'], branches of palm trees [kapot temarim], boughs of thick trees [anaf etz avot], and willows of the brook [arve nachal]' (Lev. 23:40).
[Waving the Four Species]

pg. 192 "The ancient ritual of the waving (naanuim) of the four species, sideways, forward and backward, and up and down, was an outgrowth of the new rabbinical perception of the rationale of the lulav.  Rabbi Jose b. Rabbi Chanina (3rd Cent.) explained that the saving is demonstrative of one's prayer to God to keep out damaging winds from any direction and harmful deposits of dew (Sukkot 37b).
The ritual of waving was not exclusive to the lulav.  There is a precedent in the Bible in the offering of the Omer on Passover and the two loaves of wheat on Shavuot (Lev. 23:11, 17).  In both instances the waving is inherent in the terms vehenif and tenufah ('lift up'), which are traditionally interpreted to mean 'and he shall wave' and a 'waving.'  Rabbi JOse's statement that the waving is a prayer for protection against harmful winds was originally made in reference to the Omer and the two loaves of bread (Menachot 62a).  It was subsequently applied to the waving of the lulav.
The term tenufah does not appear in the text of the lulav ritual.  INstead, the text employs the term ulekachtem ('and you shall take').  It is obvious that the requirement to wave the lulav is not based on a textual implication but on an analogy of this agricultural rite with the other two agricultural rites of Omer and lechem tenufah.  Thus the three agricultural seasons--Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot--have similar prayers for protection against inclement weather elements which might be detrimental to farming....
The view that the ceremony of the lulav is intended as a prayer for proper climatic conditions seems to be inconsistent with the biblical intimation that it is an expression of joy....a dissenting opinion [therefore] associated the joy with the waving of the lulav [as a] ritual of thanksgiving (Jer. Sukkah 3:11)."

What significance might Sukkot have for those who believe in One Law?  I'll do a special post on that later...  Sukkot might actually be the strongest argument for One Law.  Oh, and the other special day coming up is Simchat Torah.  I'll do a special post on that as well since I was born on Simchat Torah.

: )

Have a Happy Sukkot!


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