Sukkot is a holiday rich in tradition and meaning. From the holding of the Lulav and etrog to the sitting in a Sukkah, the holiday is filled with symbolism to express our relationship to G-d.
Sukkot comes just five short days following Yom Kippur. The timing is not accidental. Only after we have reached a new level of purity and atonement on Yom Kippur, can we then be truly joyous on Sukkot. Indeed, there is a special Mitzvah of Simcha, happiness, on Sukkot.
Sukkot commemorates how protective "Clouds of Glory" surrounded the Jewish people after leaving Egypt during the forty years of wandering in the desert. It also commemorates how the Jews lived in temporary dwellings during that same time. So too we leave the safety and security of our houses and put ourselves under the direct protection of G-d Almighty. His protection, in the final analysis, is the only one that matters
In Sukkot you shall dwell seven days, every citizen in Israel they shall dwell in Sukkot, in order that your generations shall know, that in Sukkot did I cause the children of Israel to dwell, when I brought them forth from the land of Egypt.. (Leviticus Chapter 23)
The Mitzvah of Sukkah
Eating meals, sleeping and spending time in the Sukkah is a unique religious experience. Some have the custom of decorating the Sukkah with fancy decorations such as fruits or New Year’s cards while others prefer to preserve its unadorned simplicity.
The Sukkah is the only Mitzvah in which we are completely surrounded by the Mitzvah itself; enveloped, as it were, in the divine presence.
The Mitzvah of Lulav and
The other well-known mitzvah which pertains to Sukkot is the mitzvah of taking a lulav and etrog. There are actually 4 elements involved in this mitzvah and all must be present to properly fulfill it. The four elements are etrog, lulav, (palm branch), hadas (avot tree branch), aravah (willows of the brook). A bracha is said on the four species everyday of Sukkot.
A Time of Hope For
When the Jewish people rejoice on Sukkot, our hearts go out to the whole entire world. That means that ultimately, when G-d brings peace to the earth it will be for all mankind. In those days of the when the Holy Temple stood in Jerusalem, the Sukkot Festival offerings included seventy oxen, corresponding to the seventy nations, in prayer for peace and harmony among all the nations of the world.
Other mitzvot on Sukkot include the “libation of water” on the Alter (in Temple Times), the beating of the Aravah on Hoshana Rabah; and a specific mitzvah to rejoice.
After the regular daily offering in the Temple, the Additional Offerings were brought. Each day there was a different number of these Additional Offerings were to be brought. All together seventy oxen were to be brought in the course of the entire festival. These seventy oxen corresponded to the seventy original nations of the world who descended from the sons of Noah, and who were the ancestors of all the nations till this day. Israel brought these sacrifices as atonement for the nations of the world and in prayer for their well being as well as for universal peace and harmony between them.
Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi said, "If the nations of the world had known the value of the Temple for them, they would have surrounded it with fortresses in order to protect it. For it was greater value for them than for Israel….
The Water Libations
Every sacrifice brought in the Temple was accompanied by a flour offering and the pouring of a prescribed measure of wine on the altar. During the seven days of the Festival of Sukkot a libation of water was added to that of wine together with each of the daily morning offerings. This water libation is not explicitly mentioned in Torah but it is a law revealed to Moshe on Sinai to which the Sages have found allusions in the Torah.
The Water Libation was performed with intense joy. Accompanying the Water Libation were festivities entitled Simchas Beis HaShoavah, or happiness of the house of the water-drawing) refering to the waters, which were drawn from the pool of Shiloach (which is referred to as the waters of salvation). The festivities were held in the Ezrat Nashim, which was the courtyard of the outer Temple. Though a relatively small area, miracously, many thousands of happy people were able to crowd in. There was dancing and singing in celebration of the drawing of the water.
Our sages said, "He who has not seen the rejoicing at the Simchas Beis Hashoavah, has never seen rejoicing in his life."
Why was the Water Libation such a happy occasion? It is as if G-d says to Israel, "All your offerings are precious to Me, but this offering of the water which you pour on the altar during the festival is especially precious. Water requires neither planting nor reaping or pressing no purifying. Let it be joined with the wine libation, which requires all sorts of preparations. In my eyes, your wine and water are equal, those that require great effort and those that don’t, so long as you rejoice in me without any mixture of foreign thoughts or ulterior motives." Through the water libation, the Jewish people knew that all their exertion in the service of G-d throughout the year rises to be accepted by him.