Sukkot, or the Feast of Booths, is the culmination of two very important cycles in the Jewish calendar year. The High Holy Days – a time of repentance, introspection, and purification – is complete only when the Jewish people, after having been forgiven for their sins, enter the great marriage canopy, so to speak, which the sukkah metaphorically symbolizes.
Of the three major festivals in Judaism – Passover, Shavuot (Pentecost), and Sukkot – Sukkot completes the cycle which begins with the Exodus from Egypt, after which the Jews receive the Torah on Pentecost, and only after having been freed and given God’s law are we invited into the sukkah where His divine presence dwells and is experienced.
Besides completing these amazing spiritual cycles each year, Sukkot also marks the beginning of the rainy season, an extremely important and short season in the Middle East. Here in Israel you can count on it not to rain from Passover to Sukkot. Our dry season is extremely dry, and nearly six months will pass with nothing but dew to wet the earth.
Rainfall in modern Israel has always been a matter of life and death. Israelis are taught from childhood to conserve water, Middle Eastern wars can ignite over water disputes, and in ancient times, it was even a graver issue. Therefore, the theme of water is very present throughout the Sukkot holiday.
The Four Species we are commanded to wave on Sukkot are in many ways a biblically ordained rain dance. Throughout Sukkot, each morning we carry our Four Species to synagogue – a citron fruit, a palm frond, a myrtle bough, and a willow branch – each of which come from the ground and need water to grow. We carry them in our hands, crying out for salvation as we circle the bimah – the table in the center of the synagogue on which the Torah is read – and ask God for rain and sustenance for the coming year.
There are so many layers of meaning of Sukkot, and each year we are blessed to learn a little bit more, to go a little bit deeper into the holiday with our families and loved ones.
As for me, the most memorable moment of Sukkot happens on the first night after the festive meal. As soon as dessert has been served and devoured, the table cleared, and the post-meal blessings have been offered, we convert our sukkah into a massive slumber party. Within minutes, the entire floor of our sukkah is covered with mattresses, blankets, and pillows. My kids are in pajamas and we sleep beneath the starlit sky in the tranquility of our temporary sukkah. May God bless us all for a happy, healthy, and sweet year!