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In the Hebrew Calendar begin at sundown,
1-7 October 2012 --15-21 Tishrei 5773.
1-7 October 2012 --15-21 Tishrei 5773.
...On the fifteenth day of this seventh month is the Festival of Sukkot, seven days for the L-RD. -Leviticus 23:34
The Festival of Sukkot begins on Tishrei 14th at sundown, the fifth day after Yom Kippur. It is quite a drastic transition, from one of the most solemn holidays in our year to one of the most joyous. Sukkot is so unreservedly joyful that it is commonly referred to in Jewish prayer and literature as Z'man Simchateinu, the Season of our Rejoicing.
Sukkot is the last of the Shalosh R'galim (three pilgrimage festivals). Like Passover and Shavu'ot, Sukkot has a dual significance: historical and agricultural. Historically, Sukkot commemorates the forty-year period during which the children of Israel were wandering in the desert, living in temporary shelters. Agriculturally, Sukkot is a harvest festival and is sometimes referred to as Chag Ha-Asif , the Festival of Ingathering.
The word "Sukkot" means "booths" and refers to the temporary dwellings that we are commanded to live in during this holiday in memory of the period of wandering. The Hebrew pronunciation of Sukkot is "Sue COAT," but is often pronounced as in Yiddish, to rhyme with "BOOK us." The name of the holiday is frequently translated "Feast of Tabernacles," which, like many translations of Jewish terms, isn't very useful. This translation is particularly misleading, because the word "tabernacle" in the Bible refers to the portable Sanctuary in the desert, a precursor to the Temple, called in Hebrew "mishkan." The Hebrew word "sukkah" (plural: "sukkot") refers to the temporary booths that people lived in, not to the Tabernacle.
Sukkot lasts for seven days. The two days following the festival, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, are separate holidays but are related to Sukkot and are commonly thought of as part of Sukkot.
The festival of Sukkot is instituted in Leviticus 23:33 et seq. No work is permitted on the first and second days of the holiday. (See Extra Day of Holidays for an explanation of why the Bible says one day but we observe two). Work is permitted on the remaining days. These intermediate days on which work is permitted are referred to as Chol Ha-Mo'ed, as are the intermediate days of Passover.
Arba Minim: The Four Species
On the first day, you will take for yourselves a fruit of a beautiful tree, palm branches, twigs of a braided tree and brook willows, and you will rejoice before the LORD your G-d for seven days. -Leviticus 23:40
Another observance during Sukkot involves what are known as the Four Species (arba minim in Hebrew) or the lulav and etrog. We are commanded to take these four plants and use them to "rejoice before the L-rd." The four species in question are an etrog (a citrus fruit similar to a lemon native to Israel; in English it is called a citron), a palm branch (in Hebrew, lulav), two willow branches (aravot) and three myrtle branches (hadassim). The six branches are bound together and referred to collectively as the lulav, because the palm branch is by far the largest part. The etrog is held separately. With these four species in hand, one recites a blessing and waves the species in all six directions (east, south, west, north, up and down), symbolizing the fact that G-d is everywhere. Detailed instructions for this ritual can be found under Sukkot Blessings.
The four species are also held and waved during the Hallel prayer in religious services, and are held during processions around the bimah (the pedestal where the Torah is read) called hakafot each day during the holiday. These processions commemorate similar processions around the altar of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem. This part of the service is known as Hoshanot, because while the procession is made, we recite a prayer with the refrain, "Hosha na!" (please save us!). On the seventh day of Sukkot, seven circuits are made. For this reason, the seventh day of Sukkot is known as Hoshanah Rabbah (the great Hoshanah).