Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles) guide for the perplexed, 2018
Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles) guide for the perplexed, 2018

1. US-Israel special ties are accentuated by Columbus Day (October 8, 2018), which is always celebrated around Sukkot (September 24-30, 2018). According to "Columbus Then and Now" (Miles Davidson, 1997, p. 268), Columbus landed in America on Friday afternoon, October 12, 1492, the 21st day of the Jewish month of Tishrei, in the Jewish year 5235, on the 7th day of Sukkot, Hosha'na' Rabbah - a day of special universal deliverance and miracles.

Hosha' (הושע) is “deliverance” in Hebrew, Na’ (נא) is the Hebrew word for "please" and Rabbah (רבה) is “The Sublime.” The numerical value of Na’ in Hebrew is 51 (נ – 50, א – 1), which corresponds to the celebration of Hoshaa'na' Rabbah on the 51st day following Moses' ascension up to Mt. Sinai.

2. Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles named after the first stop during the Exodus from Egypt, the town of Sukkota (סכותה) – Exodus 13:20-22 and Numbers 33:3-5. 

It commemorates the transition of the Jewish people from bondage in Egypt to sovereignty in the Land of Israel; from nomadic life in the desert to permanence in the Promised Land; from oblivion to deliverance; and from the spiritual state-of-mind during the High Holidays to the mundane of the rest of the year. Sukkot aims at universal – not only Jewish – deliverance. 

3. However, Sukkot is celebrated six months after Passover. According to the Jewish mystical Zohar (“Radiance” in Hebrew) – which was written by Rabbi Shimon bar-Yochai in the 2nd century and published by Moses de Leon in the 13th century – Sukkot commemorates the divine clouds of glory, which expressed the presence of God, sheltering the Jewish people throughout the Exodus until the return to the Land of Israel. The first appearance of the divine clouds of glory occurred in the first stop of the Exodus, at a place called Sukkot.

The holiday of Sukkot follows Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, which reaffirm the faith in God’s moral and material supremacy. It is followed by the holiday of Simchat Torah – celebrated a day after Sukkot – which highlights the centrality of the Torah (the Five Books of Moses) in Jewish life. The Sukkot holiday represents a human effort to be worthy of the presence and benefits of the divine clouds of glory.

4. The Hebrew root of Sukkot stands for the key characteristics of the relationship between the Jewish people, the Jewish Homeland and faith in God. The Hebrew word Sukkah (סכה) means “wholeness” and “totality” (סכ), the “shelter” of the tabernacle (סכך), “to anoint” (סוך), “divine curtain/shelter” (מסך) and “attentiveness” (סכת).

5. Sukkot, the 3rd major Jewish holiday. It follows Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur - in the month of Tishrei, the holiest Jewish month. According to Judaism, 3 represents divine wisdom, stability, integration and peace. 3 is the total sum of the basic odd (1) and even (2) numbers. The 3rd day of the Creation was blessed twice; God appeared on Mt. Sinai 3 days after Moses’ ascension of the mountain; there are 3 parts to the Bible, 3 Patriarchs, 3 annual pilgrimages to Jerusalem, etc.

6. The Book of Ecclesiastes. The holiday of Sukkot is dedicated to the study of the Biblical Book of Ecclesiastes, written by King Solomon. It accentuates Solomon’s philosophy of the importance of humility, morality, patience, learning from past mistakes, commemoration and historical perspective, family, friendship, long-term thinking, proper timing, realism and knowledge.

The Hebrew name of Ecclesiastes is Kohelet (קהלת), which is similar to the Biblical commandment to celebrate the community-oriented Sukkot holiday - Hakhel (הקהל), which means “to assemble,” as well as “public” (קהל) and “community” (קהילה). Solomon’s call for the realization of human fallibility, vulnerabilities and limitations is consistent with a central message of Sukkot: a seven day relocation from one’s permanent residence to the temporary, humble, wooden Sukkah (booth).

The five Biblical Scrolls are read on five Jewish holidays: the Song of Songs is read on Passover, the Scroll of Ruth on Pentecost, Ecclesiastes on Sukkot, the Scroll of Esther on Purim and the Scroll of Eikhah is read on the Ninth Day of Av.

7. Sukkot and the longest-serving US Senator, the late Robert Byrd (D-WV), who often quoted Biblical verses, in general, and Ecclesiastes, in particular. For example, on November 7, 2008, Senator Byrd announced his retirement from the chairmanship of the Senate Appropriations Committee: “’To everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven.’ Those Biblical words from Ecclesiastes 3:1 express my feelings about this particular time in my life.”  On September 9, 1998, Senator Byrd made the following Senate floor remarks on the Lewinsky affair: “As the book of Ecclesiastes plainly tells us, ‘there is no new thing under the sun.’ Time seems to be turning backwards in its flight. And many of the mistakes that President Nixon made are being made all over again.”