Today, October 10, 2012, is the last day of “World Space Week.” The heavens and the stars have always fascinated humankind. They are so distant, so vast and, as so eloquently pointed out by the Creator Himself, so seemingly infinite (“…Count the stars, if you be able to count them” – Genesis 15:5).
Sunday night starts the holiday of Shemini Atzeret, literally the Gathering of the Eighth, a connected, yet independent holiday, that immediately follows Sukkot.
Rosh Hashana is known as the Day of Judgment (Yom Hadin), the day on which God judges the world. Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is the day on which God finalizes His verdict on the judgments of Rosh Hashana.
Most people are unknowingly familiar with the third chapter of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) because of the 1962 hit song by The Byrds:
“To everything – turn, turn, turn/There is a season – turn, turn, turn/And a time for every purpose under heaven.”
Sukkot is considered the holiday on which God determines the world’s water allotment for the year to come. During the time of the Temple, the week of Sukkot was highlighted by the Water Libation ceremony, during which water was poured over the altar after the morning offering. The ceremony actually lasted all night and was known as the Simchat Beit Hasho’evah, the Celebration of the House of the Water Drawing.
Walk into a traditional synagogue in the middle of morning services during the week of Sukkot and you might have to take precaution not to be trampled upon by the circle of attendees walking around the bimah (central table where the Torah is read) shaking their lulavim.
One of the main mitzvot of the holiday of Sukkot is the waving of the four species: citron (etrog), palm, myrtle and willow. Trying to understand this mitzvah metaphorically, our sages compared the four species to four different types of Jews.
During the holiday of Sukkot, Jews live in sukkot (temporary dwellings with a roof of branches or wooden boards) for seven days. Although the bare minimum required for a kosher sukkah is a few walls and a roof of branches through which one can see the stars, there is, as with all Jewish rituals, the practice of hiddur mitzvah, beautifying the mitzvah. There are several ways in which one might beautify one’s sukkah. The simplest beautification, of course, is using quality materials in building the sukkah and setting a beautiful table therein for the holiday meals. The more elaborate means of beautifying a sukkah, however, is through attractive decorations.
During the festival of Sukkot, the sukkah is intended to be our second home. For example, since one would normally dine in the house, on Sukkot one dines in the sukkah. Because the sukkah is temporary, however, moving into the sukkah requires leaving behind some of our material comforts, settling for rather basic necessities, thus creating a more spiritual environment.
The waving of the four species is one of the most beautiful and symbolic mitzvot of the year.