Sukkot: 'Clouds of Glory'

On Sukkot, Jews enter temporary huts and bless Four Species, symbolizing Jewish unity and G-d's protection. They also have lots of family fun.

Hana Levi Julian and Yoni Kempinski , | updated: 12:21 PM

4 Species Market in Bnei Brak
4 Species Market in Bnei Brak
Israel news photo: Yoni Kempinski

Jews around the world Wednesday evening will enter temporary structures known as "sukkot" and celebrate the week-long holiday that commemorates G-d's protection of the Jews during their 40-year sojourn through desert on their way to the Promised Land.

Thousands of Jews have streamed into Israel to celebrate Tishrei – the first month in the Hebrew calendar and which is filled to the brim with Jewish holidays, including the two holiest of the year, Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. Another 7,000 tourists flooded into Jerusalem this week for the festivities – including Christian pilgrims, who have come to join in with their version of Sukkot, also known as the Feast of Tabernacles.

The holiday of Sukkot, which begins at sundown, is one of the three major festivals (shlosha regalim) of the Jewish calendar in which the Jewish People were enjoined to “go up to Jerusalem”.

In Israel, the holiday lasts for seven days, two of which are “holy days” – one each at the beginning and end of the holiday. The five days in between are known as “Chol HaMoed,” during which most ordinary activities are permitted. It is during these days that a massive outpouring of families and friends is seen throughout the country as domestic holiday tourism floods a myriad of sites throughout Israel.

In countries outside Israel, Sukkot lasts eight days, beginning with a two-day Sabbath-like holiday, followed by five days of Chol HaMoed. This year, the holiday begins with a three-day holiday as a result: two days of “yom tov” followed by the Sabbath.

Lulav and Etrog: Unity of the Jewish People

One of the most important customs of Sukkot is the recitation of the blessings over the Four Species: an etrog (citron), a lulav (palm frond), three sprigs of hadassim (myrtle) and two branches of aravot (red willow).

According to the Midrash, the Four Species represent the four types of Jews that comprise the People of Israel, whose unity is emphasized on the holiday of Sukkot:

1.The etrog, which has a good fragrance and taste, represents a person with both wisdom (Torah learning) and good deeds
2.The hadas has a good fragrance, but cannot be eaten, representing a person with good deeds, but who lacks wisdom
3.The lulav is edible, but has no scent, representing a person with wisdom but without good deeds, and
4.The aravah has neither taste nor smell, thus representing the person who lacks both good deeds and wisdom or Torah learning.

The lulav is only considered kosher if all four species are taken together – if one is missing, the entire lulav is invalid. So too it was with the incense mixture used in the Holy Temple in ancient times, of which there were 11 ingredients. One of those, the chelbanah was a spice with a terrible smell, and yet the entire mixture was considered invalid if that or any other spice, was omitted.

From this, we learn that all Jews must work together and remain united, as one People, regardless of our differences.

'Clouds of Glory' and Water-Drawing Nights

Also on this holiday Jews eat all their meals in temporary booths constructed of various materials, including wood paneling and cloth, with the roofs covered in branches of live material, open enough to be able to view the stars above. 

Men sleep in these structures as well, to commemorate the “clouds of glory” that surrounded and protected our ancestors from the harsh desert conditions as we traveled to the Land of Israel after fleeing from Egypt.

Nightly “Water-Drawing Celebrations,” called Simchat Beit HaShoeva (Celebration of the House of Water-Drawing) -- are held to commemorate the ceremonies and celebrations that took place at the Holy Temple in Jerusalem in preparation for drawing water for use during the festival service. These celebrations, held in Jewish communities around the world, often feature special celebrations that include all-night music and singing by live bands and special foods.

Unbridled Joy, Renewal of the Torah Cycle

Sukkot in the Diaspora ends with another two-day holiday that includes Shemini Atzeret (the final day of Sukkot) and Simchat Torah – the “Rejoicing of the Torah,” and last Jewish holiday in the Hebrew month of Tishrei.

In Israel, the holiday of Shemini Atzeret / Simchat Torah begins Wednesday at sunset, September 29, and lasts for one day.

The holiday is characterized by unbridled joy and celebrates the conclusion and renewal of the reading of the Torah each week. Also featured are the prayers for rain, officially commemorating the start of the region's season of winter rains, and the “Yizkor” prayer for departed souls.

A Selection of Special Events for the Holiday
A number of special events are planned for Chol HaMoed Sukkot, including a sukkah on a camel, tours of Samaria and concerts in various locations.

Marking the end of the freeze on Jewish construction in Judea and Samaria, there will be a special Tour of the Shomron (Samaria) sponsored by World Likud and the Shomron Regional Council on Sunday, September 26. A central gathering will be held at the Shomron community of Revava at 16:00.   Knesset Members and public figures are expected to take part in the ceremony marking the end of the building freeze and the building of the Jewish communities will resume. 

 A tour of the event will set forth from the Inbal Hotel in Jerusalem at 8:30 a.m. and return to the hotel at 7:30 p.m.There will be an opportunity to purchase lunch and eat in a sukkah.

At the Diaspora Museum in Ramat Aviv, Emunah, the National Religious Women's Organization, is sponsoring the first ever all day  family event held there, from September  26-28, with outdoor performances, an international Sukkah exhibition with entries by artists, architects and craftsmen, a Jewish music festival that encourages the audience to perform, arts and crafts and more. Children of Emunah's youth villages will be on hand to help. Admission free.

Kfar Hanoar Hadati, Kfar Hassidim, in the Zebulun Valley and twenty minutes from Haifa,  is holding a family oriented "happening" and fair on Monday of Chol Hamoed, September 27, with a genuine Etthipian home on exhibition, hands on activities and crafts, baking pitot, getting to know the dairy barn, gymboree, petting zoo and other attractions.

In Jerusalem, Chabad of Rechavia will hold its opening event on Monday, September 27 from 3:00 pm to 6:00 pm at Gan Ha'Atzma'ut (Independence Park), corner of King George and Agron Streets), featuring a sukkah on a camel, as well as a “Sukkah Mobile,” trampolines, food and fun for the whole family. For more information, call Rabbi Yisroel Goldberg at 052-731-8777 or email .

Also on Monday, September 27, a free concert will be held from 5:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. at the Beit Shemesh “ShemeshFest,” featuring Shtar, Shlock Rock, Chaim Dovid, Yossi Piamenta, Majuda, HaMakor, Shlomo Katz and Shay Gabso.

Other concerts are being offered around the Jerusalem area from Sunday through Thursday, but require an entrance fee. For more information about these, one can call Jonty Zwebner of RNY Productions at 077-216-4436 or 052-607-0412.