Friday, October 06, 2006


Sukkot is the ultimate Festival. One of its names given in the Jewish tradition is "החג" “The Festival”. A trivia question on previously my favorite game show, “Win Ben Stein’s Money” was something to the effect of “What is the Jewish Thanksgiving?” The answer, which I somehow was not able to identify, reasoning that every single festival involves some sort of “thanksgiving”. The answer was “Sukkot”. It is a holiday for which we give thanksgiving to the gifts we are given in nature. For seven days we brave the elements and spend more time eating outdoors than we might cumulatively during a summer. LA has a Mediterranean climate but if you’re in New York (which many of my readers are), then you have cold and rain to deal with. And yet, we desire not the rain, cold, or wind which are so necessary for agrarian societies, that which we are celebrating on this holiday. That is, until the conclusion of the festival when we begin to pray for rain. For now, we want mild weather to be able to dwell in our Sukkot in relative serenity.

There were some very unique Temple rituals that took place during sukkot. The dwelling in booths is quite unique for this holiday, as is the strange ritual with the lulav and etrog, possibly a knockoff of an ancient pagan fertility ritual (hint: they allegedly used to use a second etrog).

We read in the first mishna of chapter 8 of Sukkah,
"כל מי שלא ראה שמחת בית השואבה, לא ראה שמחה מימיו".
If one did not witness the Simchat Beit HaShoeva ceremony, they have never experienced true joy in their lives. This ceremony of the water libations of Sukkot was jam-packed with joyous celebrations. People sang, people danced, people juggled fiery torches. Fun was had by all. We are unable to describe the feelings experienced by the attendees of this event and we desire its reinstitution. Think Carlebach Shul on Simchat Torah but more fun and more fire. The residents of Mathilde Schechter Residence Hall a few years back did one of their own non-sanctioned Simchat Beit Hashoevah ceremonies, one which involved placing cups of water on top of the elevator door causing the water to libate on victims heads. I later read a Rambam that non-priests were not allowed to perform a Simchat Beit HaShoevah under penalty of death. Oops.

The other ritual I want to focus on is the interesting number of animals slaughtered on Sukkot. Bulls are the animals of choice on this festival. On the first day of sukkot there were offered, in addition to the normal stuff and the extra libations, 13 bulls. On the second day, 12, and decreasing by one daily until the seventh day there were 7 bulls offered. The total amount of bulls offered during the festival of Sukkot is 70. Seventy is one of those key numbers in Judaism. It is the number of elders in the Torah. Here it corresponds to the 70 “Nations” of the world (descended from 70 non-Jewish families in the Torah). These bulls are meant to atone for the sins of all the other nations. The Jews are the “Light unto the Nations” and have always seeked the welfare of Jew and non-Jew alike. But there was an Eighth Day of Assembly for God to celebrate just with His people, and one final bull was sacrificed for the nation of Israel. 71 Bulls in total; the Sanhedrin was composed of one more person than the elders of Moses’ time. 71 members, one of whom was the nasi, the leader. The Jewish people are the nesiim of the world and have a role in being guides, the aforementioned “Light Unto the Nations”

Go out and be that light unto the nations

Shabbat Shalom and Moadim L’Simcha!

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