Sukkot: Let My People Camp!

Trellis/ Makeshift Sukkah-Aaron_M on Flickr

Tonight marks the first day of Sukkot, or “The Feast Of Booths” or “Tabernacles”, which runs from September 22/14 Tishrei through September 29/21 Tishrei 5771.

What the heck does that mean?

It means “Go Camping!”

Seriously though, Sukkot is the holiday where we remember when we were traveling in the desert after fleeing Mitzrayim (Egypt), and we had to live in portable, fragile huts, or booths. In the time of the Temple it was one of the biggest pilgrimage holidays where Jews would come from all over to celebrate together as a people.

So why huts? What do they symbolize?

The sukkah, or booth, is a reminder of the booths that our ancestors lived in. We take this time to remember that we left Egypt with almost nothing and with nowhere to live, and we depended on G-d to provide and protect us.

They are also a symbol of the protective clouds, the Clouds of Glory, that hovered over our ancestors after we left Egypt and protected them through the wanderings. The Sages tell us about how the Clouds of Glory disappeared after the first Yom Kippur, and one of the things we celebrate is that the clouds returned on the 15th of Tishrei, symbolizing that G-d had truly forgiven us.

Observing Sukkot is usually done by building a sukkah following some specific Halachic rules, and spending the night and eating your meals there. Here is a fantastic link from a great resource for building a sukkah. While this is a great thing to do, and a really great experience for families, it may not be practical. So I would suggest some alternatives that, while maybe not Halachically “correct”, will allow you to explore and appreciate this wonderful Holy time:

  • Take a walk outside with your family.
  • Look at nature.
  • Reflect on your connection to the Earth and to G-d.
  • Go camping.
  • Get out of the house and feel the reality of the world around you.

Sukkot is a time when we take a look at what usually makes us happy. We’ve just asked for and (presumably) been forgiven for our transgressions from the past year. Sukkot is one of the agricultural holidays; it takes place during the reaping time where the Israelites would fill their storehouses with their produce grown during the summer. So we sit, forgiven and happy that we have so much. But what is the real source of happiness? Our connection to the Infinite. On Sukkot we take the opportunity to celebrate what was only days before a somber event. We now move outside and leave behind those things that may make us happy on the materialistic level, and bask in the connection to the Essence that was formed over the High Holidays. Seeing how fragile the physical world is, spending time out of doors in nature, and appreciating the basis of our reality is a gift that we are given as Jews, and one that I invite you to partake in.

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