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August 17, 2011 Back


For forty years, following the most famous exodus in history, the Children of Israel slept, ate, raised families, got married and died in the desert.  On the way to the Promised Land, the Israelies were accompanied by G-d and His Clouds of Glory that protected them from the dangers lurking in the desert and the physical discomforts. Some of the most famous and undisguised miracles that G-d performed for the Jews took place in the desert. For example, He showered down the Mana, which was a type of food, from the sky. Another overt miracle was that their clothes never became tattered and dirty in spite of being used for forty years! While in the desert the Israelies slept in Sukkahs, or huts; they did not have permanent homes, and these Sukkahs symbolized the migratory life they led.

For this reason, until this very day, every year we remember our life in the desert and the miracles G-d had performed for us. We dwell in a Sukkah for seven days and seven nights. We leave the comfort of our sturdy homes and are reminded that every physical thing in life is transitory.

Sukkah and “Schach”

The name Sukkah is derived from the word “schach,” which is the roof-covering used for the Sukkah. According to Jewish law, the sukkah needs to have more shade than sun. Additionally, you must be able to see the stars through the roof-covering. Therefore, a kosher schach must meet these demands.  The schach teaches us that G-d is watching over us even when times get unbearably tough. Although the scach covers the sukkah, it is still possible to see stars through the covering; so too man can see G-d if he truly seeks Him.

The Four Species

Every Sukkot, which starts on Tishrei 15th and ends on Tishrei 22nd, we take the “arba’at haminim,” or four species. The four species, or four kinds, are the “lulav,” palm branch, “aravah,” willow, “haddas,” myrtle, and an “etrog,” citron.

Just as the four species make for one mitzvah, and the absence of any of the four will nullify the mitzvah as a whole, so too are the Jews in fact one tight-knit nation. The commandment of the for species alludes to the four layers of which the entire Jewish nation consists. All four layers, or types of people, have the same mission.

The Etrog, which has both a taste and smell, is symbolic of people who not only learn Torah and are knowledgeable but who also do good deeds.

The myrtle has smell but no taste, which is reminiscent of those who are wonderful people who do lots of good deeds, but have not tasted the sweetness of the Torah.

The lulav, or palm branch, comes from the date tree, which has taste but no smell. This is symbolic of those who learn Torah and who possess much wisdom, but this wisdom is not reflected in good deeds and being kind to others.

Sadly, there are also people who are like the willow, which has no taste nor smell. Such people do not learn and have no wisdom and do not do good deeds.

Still, comes Sukkot, they are all bundled together and make for one mitzvah.

Learning about the nature of the Jewish people as a nation is not the only thing we can learn from the four species.  In every family, each child has his or her own special talents and each chooses their own path. Parents do not always agree with this path; they may believe that the road the child chose is not the best to allow them to fully use their talents. However, they need to remember that the child remains part of the family. Without him, the family will be incomplete, just like the four kinds.

Simchas Torah/Shmini Atzeres

Shmini Azteres is the eight day of Sukkos. Atzeres means “gathering,” and on that day all activities were forbidden. The Jews used this day for praying and making sacrifices. Shmini Atzeres became an official Biblical holiday. On this day, in Israel, Simchas Torah, which is a rabbinic-instituted holiday, is also celebrated.  We celebrate the completion of the reading of entire Five Books of Moses, or the Torah.  In celebrating Simchas Torah, we rejoice in the fact that G-d gave us the Torah. One of the most famous customs on this day is the “hakafot,” which means “circling.” During the hagakot we take out all the Torahs from the ark, including those that are considered non-kosher due to certain defects, and circle the bima seven times.  After reciting certain passages, those involve in circling the bima with the Torah, and even bystanders, dance and sing with the Torahs. Small children also partake in Simchas Torah.  They are given miniature, non-kosher Torahs, and they form their own circle of dancing and singing.

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