THE FESTIVAL OF SUKKOT
The fall festival of Sukkot, commemorating the protection given the Jewish people throughout their wanderings in the wilderness, is described in the Torah as a harvest at the end of the agricultural year (Exodus 23:16).
The eighth day of Sukkot, called Atzeret
(closing day of the festival season), is regarded as a separate holy day, characterized by the special prayer for rain (Geshem
), by Yizkor services in memory of the departed, and by the recital of the book of Ecclesiastes which contains reflections on the purpose of life and human's ceaseless strivings.
According to Maimonides, the moral lesson derived from the festival of Sukkot is that one should remember his or her bad times in his or her days of prosperity; he or she will thereby lead a modest life. Therefore, we leave our elegant homes to dwell in booths that are reminiscent of desert life lacking in all convenience and comfort.
On the other hand, Sukkot is kept in the autumn season when the produce has been gathered in from the fields and farmers are free from pressing labor, when there is neither great heat nor troublesome rain and it is possible to dwell in booths, even though they are hastily constructed and unsubstantial.
The four species, of which the lulav
(palm branch) is the most prominent, are symbolical expression of our rejoicing over the change from life in the wilderness to life in a country replete with fruit trees and rivers.
These particular four species (lulav, etrog, hadassim, aravot
) were plentiful in Eretz Yisrael, and were easily obtainable by everybody. Besides, they have a good appearance; two of them, the citron (etrog
) and myrtle (hadas
), diffuse fragrance; they keep fresh and green for seven days. .. (guide, 3:43). (Adapted from A Book of Jewish Concepts
, by Philip Birnbaum).
The last day of this festival period is Simchat Torah when we rejoice that we have concluded the reading of the entire Torah and we begin it anew. It is a joyous culmination of the entire Holiday Season.