Blessings Abound in Eretz Yisrael
Date: Begins on the 15th of Tishri.
Duration: Eight days for Jews in the Galut and 7 days for Jews in Yisrael.
Names: Chag HaAsif (Day of Ingathering); HeChag (The Holiday); Zeman Simchateinu (Day of Rejoicing); Chag HaKatzir (Harvest Festival).
Source: "Speak to the Bnei Yisrael, saying: 'On the fifteenth day of this seventh month is the Festival of Sukkot for seven days, for Hashem. You shall take for yourselves, on the first day, the fruit of the beautiful tree (etrog), a branch of palm tree (lulav), boughs of thick-leaved trees (hadasim), and willows of the brook (aravot), and you shall rejoice before Hashem, your G-d, for seven days. You shall dwell in sukkot seven days, every native born Israelite shall dwell in the sukkot'" (VaYikra 23:34, 40, 42)
Halachot - To dwell (includes sleeping) in the sukkah. At the minimum, this means to eat in the sukkah.
Preparation of the Sukkot should be begun immediately after Yom Kippur with the construction of the sukkah. From this time and before the onset of Sukkot, the sukkah should be completed and the lulav and etrog purchased.
General Theme: A Festival of thanksgiving. Sukkot marks the end of the fall harvest season, when the Yisraelim brought their firstfruits to the Temple as a sign of thanksgiving for G-d's kindness. We are urged to remember the Yisraelim's 40 years of wandering in the desert, who built fragile huts to protect themselves from the elements and are commanded to do the same today, as a remembrance of the fragility of life itself.
Scritpure also commands us to use the "four species" on Sukkot. These consist of the etrog (citron), a lulav (palm branch) and, attached to the lulav, the two sets of leaves hadasim (myrtles, which are short and round) and aravot (willows, which are long and narrow).
There are various explanations for the four species, one example is that the etrog represents the heart, the lulav represents the spine, the myrtles symbolize the eyes, and the willows are symbolic of the lips and mouth. The symbols indicate that we should serve G-d with every fiber of our being.
During this period the verse, "He who sows in tears reaps in joy" is fulfilled. The High Holiday period of introspection and penitence is finally completed. We go the extra length to make the environment and ritual aspect of Sukkot hiddur mitzvah (beautiful and joyous - enhancement of a commandment).
Traditional Foods: Stuffed cabbage and kreplach (fried pockets of dough) containing fruit or fall harvest vegetables; dishes made with honey, such as tzimmes (prunes and other fruit, carrots, and honey) and taiglach (honey pastry) are served in the sukkah to symbolize the hope for a sweet year.
Customs: The holiday is ushered in with the lighting of two candles and the reciting of the following blessing:
Baruch atah Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha-olam asher kidshanu bemitzvotav vetzivanu lehadlik ner shel Yom Tov.
Blessed are You, Hashem, our G-d, King of the universe, Who sanctified us with His commandments, and has comman ded us to kindle the light of the Festival.
The festival blessing over wine (Kaddush) is recited in the sukkah, followed by the shehecheyanu blessing and the special blessing for dwelling in the sukkah:
Baruch atah Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha-olam asher kidshanu b'mitzvotav v'tzivanu leyshev basukkah
Blessed are You, Hashem, our G-d, King of the universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments and has commanded us to dwell in the Sukkah.
By tradition, the walls of the sukkah are hung with tablets bearing the names of seven ushpizin (special guests) whom we invite to be with us in the sukkah each day: Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, Yosef, Moshe, Aharon, and David.
Full Hallel is recited on all of the days of Sukkot. On the intermediate Shabbat, Sefer Kohelet is read. During Sukkot morning services, the lulav and etrog are waved during certain selections in the Hallel service. The Hallel psalms recall the celebration of festivals in the ancient Temple and express our gratitude for G-d's protection and deliverance. (The lulav and etrog are not used when Sukkot falls on Shabbat.)
The lulav and etrog are carried in a processional during morning services. In these hakafot (circuits), hoshannot (prayers of redemption) are recited.
Meals are customarily served in the sukkah throughout the festival.
The seventh day of Sukkot is called Hoshanah Rabbah (the Great Help) because of the special Hoshanah prayers of redemption recited on this day. On Hoshanah Rabbah the Cantor dons a white gown (Kittel). Our Sages suggest that on this day G-d's judgment, sealed on Yom Kippur, receives final confirmation. Seven circuits are made around the sanctuary as the Torah carrier is followed by all persons holding their lulav and etrog. Toward the end of the service, bunches of willow leaves (called hoshannot) are taken by each person and struck against a chair or table. Just as the tree, after losing its leaves, renews its life by rain and warmth, so can people gain fresh strength in life's struggles and cares by renewed faith in G-d.
When one of the intermediate days of Sukkot falls on the Shabbat, the Scriptural book of Kohelet is read before the reading of the Torah.
The greeting during Sukkot is "Chag Sameach" (Happy Holiday/Festival) or "Mo'adim LeSimcha" (May Your Festival Be Happy).