Festival of Sukkot is the Bible's Thanksgiving

October 6, 2012 

Jews around the world celebrate the fall harvest by recognizing the beauty of the natural world.

Jews celebrate three harvest festivals that are mentioned in the Torah: Passover, which marks the harvest of winter crops; Shavuot (Pentecost), which marks the harvest of spring crops; and this week, Sukkot, which marks the harvest of summer crops.

In ancient times, the three festivals were celebrated by making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

In addition to being agricultural festivals, each of the three holidays also marks a significant event in Jewish tradition.

Passover recalls theExodus from Egypt, Shavuot recalls the giving of the Torah at Sinai, and Sukkot recalls the journey of the Israelites through the wilderness.

Sukkot is a seven-day festival that marks a time of thanksgiving and celebration. In Hebrew, it is called Z'man Simchateinu, the Season of our Joy.

Following so quickly after our High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Sukkot provides a pleasant time for joyful togetherness after the intense introspection and soul-searching of the High Holy Days.

Sukkot is celebrated outside, in a temporary dwelling called a sukkah, usually a three- or four-sided hut with an open roof covered only by branches.

The most central observance of this holiday is the building of a sukkah, a structure that is temporary in nature, just as were the booths the ancient Israelites dwelled in during their desert wanderings.

The roof should be built so that during the daytime there is shade, while at night one can see the stars in the sky through the branches. Decorating the sukkah with fruits can be a fun activity for the whole family.

We also celebrate Sukkot by waving and blessing the lulav and etrog (citron). This comes from Leviticus 23:40, which says that we are to "take the produce of goodly trees (etrog), branches of palm trees, boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook (combined to make a lulav) and rejoice before God for seven days."

We take the lulav in our right hand, the etrog in our left hand, and hold them together. We wave them to the east, south, west, north, up, and down.

While doing this, we say the blessing that thanks God for giving us commandments and commanding us to wave the lulav in God's honor.

In addition to inviting friends and family to join us in our sukkah, we ceremonially invite the patriarchs and matriarchs of our faith: Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob, Rachel, and Leah, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, Miriam, Hannah, Deborah and David.

When you sit down to enjoy your Thanksgiving turkey next month, remember that the roots of our joyful November American celebration are found in our ancient Biblical festival of the Tabernacles.

Happy Sukkot to one and all!

Rabbi Harold F. Caminker, is rabbiof Temple Beth El, 4200 32nd St. W., Bradenton. Shabbat services are held at 7:30 p.m. Fridays. For more information, call 941-755-4900 or visit www.templebethelbradenton.com.

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