As stated in the Torah (Deuteronomy 16:16), Sukkot’s original intention was a time for Israelites to appear at the Temple in Jerusalem with offerings from their harvest.
As such, Sukkot (fall harvest) joined Passover (barley) and Shavuot (wheat) as the shalosh regalim — the three feast holidays. The name is indicative of the pilgrimages Jews in Israel made to the Temple three times per year.
While the destruction of the Temple and the development of rabbinic Judaism changed some of the rituals connected with these holidays, Sukkot still offers wonderful ways to bring Israel into your family’s holiday preparations and celebrations.
Here are two suggestions for doing so.
Ushpizin for Modern Times
Beginning with Maimonides in the 12th century, Sukkot became connected with welcoming guests and helping the poor. This theme was extended in the 16th century by the Kabbalists, who created a practice of welcoming seven guests, one for each night of the festival. These “exalted men of Israel” are Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron and David.
Some Sephardim will even set aside special chairs for the ushpizin (guests) each night, and, recently, many others have expanded the list to include the great women of Israel as well: Sarah, Rachel, Rebecca, Leah, Miriam, Abigail and Esther.
While these traditional ushpizin have their roots in the Tanakh, we suggest a discussion in your sukkah this year: Who are the seven ushpizin who have played a role in the birth and growth of modern Israel whom you would choose to have as guests in your sukkah and why?
As stated above, the holiday at its roots is a harvest festival of the seasonal fruits (another name for Sukkot is Chag Ha’asif, the Harvest Holiday) and a time of thanksgiving and gathering before the onset of the winter rains in ancient Israel.
The building of the sukkah originated when farmers would dwell in such temporary shelters with their families to be close to the harvest in celebration of a job completed.
Today, Israel is at the forefront of agricultural technology and is using that expertise to assist developing nations, especially in Africa.
In his most recent address to the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, Sept. 19, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: “We’re in the midst of a great revolution, a revolution in Israel’s standing among the nations. This is happening because so many countries around the world have finally woken up to what Israel can do for them. Those countries now recognize what brilliant investors like Warren Buffet and great companies like Google and Intel, what they’ve recognized and known for years: that Israel is the innovation nation — the place for cutting-edge technology in agriculture, in water, in cyber security, in medicine, in autonomous vehicles. You name it, we’ve got it.”
As you can see, Sukkot, like many Jewish festivals, is deeply entrenched in the land of Israel. While today we express this connection by shaking the lulav and etrog, composed of the four species from Israel, and by living and/or eating in a sukkah to remind us of the times in the fields during the ancient harvest, there are many ways to incorporate the modern state of Israel as well.
Rich Walter is the associate director for Israel education at the Center for Israel Education (www.israeled.org).