Sukkot is a week-long holiday that starts on the 15th day of the Hebrew month Tishrei. It commemorates the beginning of the construction of the Holy Tabernacle after the Exodus from Egypt.
In Israel, the first day is a "yom tov" (יום טוב) with Shabbat-like restrictions. In the Diaspora, the first two days are considered as yom tov. The remaining days are called Chol HaMoed (חול המועד), where work and travel are allowed.
Sukkot is one of the three Holidays of pilgrimage to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. In the Torah, the pilgrimage holidays are mentioned three times (see below).
"On the 15th of the seventh month, when you harvest the land's grain, you shall celebrate a festival to God for seven days. The first day shall be a day of rest, and the eighth day shall be a day of rest." (Leviticus 23:39)
Sukkot is the plural form of the Hebrew word sukkah (סוכה), which means a tabernacle. The Sukkah structure symbolizes the makeshift huts in which the Hebrews lived during their journeys in the desert after the exodus from Egypt.
Commandments and traditions of Sukkot
- Pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
- Building a sukkah and living in it. Commonly meals are held in the sukkah.
- Blessing over the four species (see below) and being happy:
"On the first day, you must take for yourself a fruit of the citron tree, an unopened palm frond, myrtle branches, and willows [that grow near] the brook. You shall rejoice before God for seven days." (Leviticus 23:40)
- Sukkot is also a time of family gathering and hosting others in the Sukkah.
The four species
For the blessing for the four species, three plant branches and a citron are bundled in the following combination:
- One palm branch (Lulav - לולב)
- Two branches of willow (Arava - ערבה)
- Three branches of myrtle (Hadas - הדס)
- A citron (Etrog - אתרוג)
Thus, altogether 7 items are bundled as shown on the left. For the blessing, the etrog is held on the left hand and the branches on the right hand.
"ברוך אתה ה' אלוקינו מלך העולם אשר קידשנו במצוותיו וציוונו על נטילת לולב"
Mention of pilgrimage holidays in the Torah
"Celebrate three pilgrimage festivals to Me each year.
Keep the Festival of Matzahs. Eat matzahs for seven days, as I commanded you, during the prescribed time in the month of standing grain, since this is when you left Egypt.
Do not appear before Me empty-handed.
Also keep] the Reaping Festival, through the first fruits of your produce that you planted in the field. [There is also] the Harvest Festival [right after] the end of the year, when you gather your produce from the field." (Exodus 23:14-16)
Three times each year, every male among you must appear before God, Master [of the Universe]. (Exodus 23:17, 34:23)
Three times each year, all your males shall thus be seen in the presence of God your Lord in the place that He will choose: on the festival of Matzahs, on the festival of Shavuoth, and on the festival of Sukkoth. [In those times] you shall not appear before God empty-handed.
Each person shall bring his hand-delivered gift, depending on the blessing that God your Lord grants you. (Deuteronomy 16:16-17)