A Sukkot Guide for the Perplexed, 2016
1. Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles, commemorates the transition of the Jewish people from bondage in Egypt to sovereignty in the Land of Israel; from nomadic life in the desert to permanence in the Promised Land; from oblivion to deliverance; and from the spiritual state of mind during the High Holidays to the mundane rest of the year. Sukkot aims at universal, not only Jewish, deliverance.
2. The commandment to erect Sukkot (booths), and celebrate a 7-day-holiday, commemorating this stage of transition, was specified in Leviticus 23:42-43.
3. Sukkot is one of the three pilgrimages to Jerusalem (along with Passover and Pentecost), and one of the three holidays celebrated during the holy Jewish month of Tishrei. Sukkot commemorates the beginning of the construction of the Holy Tabernacle in the Sinai desert.
4. Sukkot has played a key role in the reconstruction of the Jewish homeland and the ingathering of Jews in the Land of Israel. For instance, the town of Sukkot was the first stop of Jacob upon returning to Israel from 20 years of work for Laban (Genesis 33:17). Joshua ordered the Jewish people to erect Sukkot (booths) upon settling the Land of Israel. Nehemiah/Ezra (Nehemiah 8: 13-14) renewed the custom of erecting Sukkot upon the ingathering to Israel, following a 70-year-old exile. Thus, the Hebrew root of Sukkah stands for key characteristics of the relationship between the Jewish people and the Jewish Homeland: Sukkah (סכה) is “wholeness” and “totality” (סכ), the “shelter” of the tabernacle (סכך).
5. The US covenant with the Jewish state dates back to Columbus Day, which is always celebrated around Sukkot. According to Columbus Then and Now, Columbus arrived in America on Friday afternoon, October 12, 1492, the 21st day of the Jewish month of Tishrei, in the Jewish year 5235, on the 7th day of Sukkot. He arrived on Hoshaa’na’ Rabbah, which is a day of universal deliverance and miracles. Hosha’ (הושע) is the Hebrew word for “deliverance” and Na’ (נא) is the Hebrew word for “please.” The numerical value of Na’ is 51 (נ – 50, א – 1), which corresponds to the celebration of Hoshaa’na’ Rabbah on the 51st day following Moses’ ascension up to Mt. Sinai.
6. The first recorded mention of the seven-day Sukkot celebration was in Nehemiah 8:17: “And all the congregation of them that came out of captivity made booths (Sukkot), and sat under the booths: for since the days of Joshua, the son of Nun, unto that day had not the children of Israel done so. And there was very great gladness.”
7. Sukkot is the third major Jewish holiday in Tishrei. According to Judaism, the number three represents divine wisdom, stability, permanence, integration and peace. Three is the total sum of the basic odd (1) and even (2) numbers. The third day of the Creation was blessed twice (“And God observed that it was well done”); God appeared on Mt. Sinai three days following Moses’ ascension of the mountain; there are three parts to the Bible, three Patriarchs, three annual pilgrimages to Jerusalem, etc.
8. The Book of Ecclesiastes, written by King Solomon and one of the world’s greatest philosophical documents, is read during Sukkot. It accentuates Solomon’s philosophy of the centrality of God and the importance of morality, humility, family, friendship, historical memory, patience, long-term thinking, proper timing, realism and knowledge. Ecclesiastes 4:12: “A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” The Hebrew name of Ecclesiastes is Kohelet, (קהלת), which is similar to the commandment to celebrate Sukkot – Hakhel (הקהל).