I’ll be sharing a cornucopia of plentiful Sukkot delights over the next 8 days or so. I do hope you keep the Feast in love with family and friends. If you are Jewish and have not discovered the joys of this most merry aspect of your heritage, I hope to be an encouragement. If you are a Christian and wish to join with Israel in some aspects of these holidays, I hope to be a source of education and information. Blessings and peace to you and yours this Sukkot holiday.
What follows is a quick summary of the days of Sukkot and Simchat Torah, the laws of the Sukkah, and the laws of the Lulav and Etrog.
The Days of Sukkot and Simchat Torah
According to tradition, the Sukkah should be built the day after Yom Kippur, even if it is the eve of the Sabbath. This is based on a principle that when it is possible to fulfill a mitzvah, one should not delay (cf. Isaac Klein, A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice, p. 160).
The four days between Yom Kippur and Sukkot are festive. Tachanun is not recited in the morning prayers. Fasting is prohibited (Klein, p. 160). Yet on the afternoon leading up to Sukkot one should refrain from eating in order to have a healthy appetite at the feast.
The first day of Sukkot is a Yom Tov. Food may be prepared but in every other respect it is a Sabbath. The eighth day, the first day after Sukkot, known as Shemini Atzeret, is also a Yom Tov.
The seventh day of Sukkot is called Hoshana Rabbah. There are various traditions which extend the days of judgment from Yom Kippur until Hoshana Rabbah. In many communities a ritual of beating five willow wands on the ground is part of the worship of Hoshana Rabbah.
The day after Sukkot is Shemini Atzeret, which is a Yom Tov. Meals are still eaten in the Sukkah. The day after Shemini Atzeret is Simchat Torah, a celebration of the Torah. Synagogue services on Simchat Torah involve a parade with Torah scrolls and reading both the end and the beginning of the scroll.
Laws of the Sukkah
The Sukkah should be built on the day after Yom Kippur. Every man is traditionally obligated (in some traditions women also) to participate in the building and decorating. It is a mitzvah to beautify the Sukkah to increase the joy of the festival. The walls should be sturdy enough not to be blown over by wind and should be whole enough to keep wind from blowing out the candles on the table. It is advisable to build a removable or hinged roof to protect the Sukkah in the rain, which should be removed when it is not raining. The normal roof of the Sukkah should consist of cut branches through which the occupants can see the stars at night. The Sukkah should provide more shade than sunlight. One should dine and, weather permitting, sleep in the Sukkah.
Laws of the Lulav and Etrog
The lulav and accompanying branches should be fresh, not dry. The etrog should be chosen for beauty. Hold the lulav wand in the right hand with the palm spine facing you and the etrog in the left hand. The cut stalk side of the etrog should be facing down and the protruding end facing up. Recite the blessing on taking the palm branch with the etrog upside down and then right it. After the blessing, wave the lulav and etrog east, south, west, north, up, and down. It is a common custom to circle the Torah reading table each day with the lulav and etrog adding one circuit each day (dating back to Temple times when the worshipper circled the altar).