From Rabbi Dovid Saks
The Holiday of Succos: October 1st – October 9th
Five days after Yom Kippur we celebrate the Holiday of Succos. During these seven days, we eat (some even sleep) in a Succah. A Succah is constructed of four walls with a roof made of natural materials that are detached from the ground, such as branches, bamboo, leaves etc. The Succah serves as a reminder of the protective clouds which G-d provided for the Jews during their years of travel through the desert.
We leave our comfortable home to dwell in a temporary Succah – booth, even though the season is not conducive for outdoor living. This indicates that we are doing this solely for the purpose of fulfilling the Torah’s command, “In Succah – booths you shall dwell for seven days.”
On a deeper and more mystical level, the Succah is much more than a reminder. The Succah is actually the protective covering of G-d. G-d shields and protects the nation of Israel, not by mighty weapons and huge structures but by simple branches and leaves.
Our Sages tell us that the Succah attains a holiness on par with a synagogue.
Another Mitzvah performed on Succos, which also has great mystical meaning, is the Mitzvah of taking the four species.
The four species consist of the Esrog – citron, Lulav – center palm branch, Hadassim – myrtle branches, Aravos – willow branches.
They are held together and a blessing is recited. The four species are then waved in all six directions, signifying that G-d is everywhere. The four species also resemble the heart, spine, eyes and mouth of a person. In effect we are unifying the vital parts of our body to do the will of G-d.
Wednesday through Friday is called Chol Hamoed. On these semi festival days, we do things which keep in the spirit of the Holiday. All meals are eaten in the Succah and the four species are waved. On Shabbos the four species are not taken.
Hashana Rabah – Sunday October 7th
The Land of Israel is very much dependent on rainfall. The Torah tells us that the Hand of G-d is always visible in Israel through the amount of rain that falls. The Talmud relates that G-d’s judgment for the amount of rainfall is conducted on Succos, just as Rosh Hashana is the day of judgment for people.
In fact, during the times of the Holy Temple, a complex water drawing and libation service on the Altar was performed in the Temple as a supplication for G-d’s mercy to give water to the land.
On the Seventh day of Succos, the Judgment for water is sealed. This day is called Hoshana Rabah – the great plea for water. A longer prayer service is recited while we circle the Bimah in Shul with our four species, seven times. (On each of the other days we circle the Bimah only once.)
We then recite special prayers while holding five willow branches and they are then hit on the ground several times. (Hoshana Rabah is a semi Holiday day.)
Shemini Atzeres – Monday October 8th
The eighth day of Succos is actually not part of Succos. The Torah calls it the eighth day of assembly. There is no Mitzvah of sitting in the Succah or taking the four species.
The explanation for this is that during the seven days of the Holiday of Succos, the Torah relates that aside from other sacrifices, a total of seventy oxen be sacrificed in the Temple. The seventy oxen correspond to the original seventy nations of the world who descended from the sons of Noah. These offerings were brought as an atonement for the nations and to make them meritorious of G-d’s blessing for water.
As the Holiday season draws to a conclusion, G-d reserved a day between us and Him, the eighth day – Shemini Atzeres as a day set aside as a special day between Him and His nation of Israel to the exclusion of all other nations, and said, “Please remain with Me for one more day, without a special Mitzvah, just to reflect on what we have gained spiritually during the Days of Awe and throughout the Holiday of Succos.”
We begin mentioning G-d’s power of providing rain in our prayers on Shemini Atzeres and Yizkor – the memorial prayer, is recited.
Simchas Torah, Tuesday October 9th
We celebrate the completion of the public synagogue readings of the Torah with great rejoicing in prayer, song and dancing in honor of the Torah. After the Torah is completed, we start anew from the beginning of the Torah. This indicates that the wisdom, knowledge and study of the Torah is never ending and also is a display that we are not satisfied with what we accomplished, rather we eagerly wish to begin again. Wishing you a most joyous and festive Succos!
Rabbi Dovid and Malki Saks and Family