Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Sukkot, The Festival of Booths

"The etrog is the original fruit in the garden of Eden."  Why Hebrew Goes Right to Left --by Ronald Isaacs

In his interesting and useful book about all things Jewish, author Ronald Issaacs notes that it was the etrog, a citrus fruit, not an apple that was the fruit eaten in the garden of Eden. At one time in history it was customary during the Sukkot festival for women to bite off the top of this fruit and spit it out, thereby symbolizing their resistance of the Evil one. This year the festival commences at sundown on September 30.

While many are familiar with the Jewish YomKippur and the occasion of Rosh Ha-Shonah, beyond Jewish circles, it is the joyful and less known Festival of Booths, Sukkot, that occupies this article today. The Sukkot is an ancient harvest festival celebrated annually at a time determined by the full moon in the Hebrew month of Tishri. A sukkah booth or tabernacle is built in a characteristic three sided form and traditionally occupied in a celebratory fashion by adherents. The structure is often made with local materials, easily available. Here in the United States, corn stalks are a favored material. In other areas tree branches or palms are equally favored. The festival dictates that one spend considerable amount of time in their booth, eating, socializing, napping, singing or other activities. However at the most basic, constructing and eating meals within the sukkah satisfies the ancient tradition.

Its spiritual significance is related to the Biblical story of the 40 years of wandering in exile in the desert; the structure like their faith sheltered the people through many years of uncertainty. Each home may construct a Sukkot; often communities will construct a larger shelter for a festival celebration. It is traditional to refrain from any labor on certain days of the eight day festival and to enjoy sweets such as fruits. When eating a traditional meal in the sukkah, a prayer is recited which perhaps speaks to the heart of the observance:
Blessed are you, G-d our Creator of time and space, who enriches our lives in holiness, who commands us to dwell in the sukkah.

Explore one tradition of rejoicing in the harvest season with a sukkah. For those in the southern hemisphere, the festival occurs at the earliest of spring time. Still it remains an agricultural festival to be appreciated.

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