Wednesday, September 18, 2013

SUKKOT: The Fantastic Four Species

"And, you shall take on the first day [of Sukkot] a fruit of a citric tree (etrog), branches of palm trees (lulab), a branch of myrtle (hadas) and willows of the brook ('araba), and you shall rejoice before HaShem, your God, for seven days". (Lev. 23).

THE MITZVA:  We are commanded to take the above mentioned four species during the seven days of Sukkot. One lulab, one etrog, two 'arabot, and three hadasim are taken together each time. This Mitzva is called "the four species" (ארבעת המינים) or simply, the Mitzva of lulab. 

We should hold the lulab, the hadasim, and the 'arabot in our right hand and the etrog in our left hand. Then, we perform the Mitzva of netilat lulab, which literally means "lifting" the lulab. The four species must be held in the direction that they grow.
On the first day of Sukkot, a person must be careful to recite the blessing over his own lulab and etrog. During the other six days the four species may be borrowed from somebody else.

The Ashkenazi custom is  to 'shake' (rattle) the lulab  while the Sephardic custom is to 'move it up' (lena'anea') in six different directions.

The Mitzva of the four species is not performed on Shabbat, even when the first day of Sukkot falls on Shabbat. 

THE SYMBOLISM: One of the symbolisms of the four species is the following: The אתרוג or Citron resembles in its shape the heart, the driving force behind all our actions. The לולב, a palm branch, resembles the spine, which holds the body together allowing us to move. The הדסים - myrtle branches - resemble in their shape the eyes, with which we behold God's world. And the ערבות, the willow branches, resemble the lips which give expression to our thoughts and feelings. Our heart, our body, our eyes, thoughts and words are all directed and elevated to God. 

THE NA'ANU'IM: The Sephardic custom is to move the four species in the following order: south, north, east, up, down and west. This order was established by Hakhme haQabbala.  Rabbi Mordekhay Eliyahu z"l explained that when we say hodu (thanks) in the Halel we have to think that we are expressing our gratitude to the Master of heavens, Earth and the four corners of the world. 

BLESSING: Two blessings are said the first day, 'al netilat lulab and shehecheyanu. One berakha,'al netilat lulab, is said during the other six days.
Since every Mitzva has to be performed after we say the blessing, some people hold the etrog upside down and turn it back after the blessing, otherwise the berakha would be said, unnecessarily, once the Mitzva was performed. Others hold the etrog in their left hand only after the berakha is said.

Women are formally exempted from the Mitzva of lulab. The tradition in most communities, however, is that women perform the Mitzva of lifting the lulab. Rabbis are divided on the issue of women reciting the berakha on the lulab. In general, Sephardic Rabbis oppose to the recitation of this berakha by women and Ashkenazi Rabbis approve.  Each person should follow his or her community's traditions.



Tuesday, September 17, 2013

SUKKOT: Living in the Sukka

"During seven days you shall live in huts (sukkot), all Israelites must live in huts. This is so that your future generations will know that I 'accommodated/hosted' the children of Israel in huts when I brought them out of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.
" (Lev. 23:44).

The rabbis explained that in order to fulfill this Mitzva we should leave our residence and settle in the Sukka. They said that "All seven days of the festival, each person should turn the sukka into his permanent residence, and his house into the temporary one"

Living in the sukka means that all regular activities we do at home should take place in the sukka.

MEALS: Except when it rains (this year the NY weather forecast isnot predicting rain, at least for the first two days of Sukkot!) we should have all our meals in the sukka. According to Jewish Law, all formal meals --which are defined by the recitation of hamotzi and birkat hamazon-- must take place in the sukka. That is why when having a formal meal we recite the berakha: ....asher kiddeshanu bemitzvotav vetztivanu leesheb basukka.

MEZONOT: Pastries, cakes, cookies, etc. (mezonot) should also be eaten inside the sukka.

SNACKS: A light snack (a fruit, a salad, a soda) might be eaten outside the sukka. The rabbis, however, praised the pious Jew who during the festival of Sukkot would not eat or drink anything outside the sukka.

SLEEPING: Sleeping in the sukka is an essential part of the Mitzva of establishing ourselves in the sukka. However, the fulfillment of this Mitzva depends on a few factors: weather condition (cold temperatures and obviously rain) and the physical condition (health, sensitivity to cold, age, etc.) of each individual.  In some areas, safety concerns, like the possible presence of animals outdoors, etc. could also be a factor to be excused from sleeping in the sukka. 

All other regular activities that we normally do at home, like studying, reading, relaxing, etc. should be done in the sukka as well.

Sukkot - A Celebration For Every Nation!
Sukkot - A Celebration For Every Nation!

Monday, September 16, 2013

SUKKOT: Time to move outdoors

The Torah says: 'In Sukkot you shall dwell for seven days... so that your generations shall know, that I hosted the children of Israel in Sukkot when I brought them forth from the land of Egypt.. (Leviticus 23).
During seven days we abandon our homes and establish ourselves in the Sukka. The Sukka is a 'hut' consisting of four walls and a very fragile covering or 'sekhakh'. We eat, study, and -weather permitting- sleep in the Sukka. We bring furniture to the Sukka and make it as comfortable and beautiful as possible.
Sukkot commemorates the forty years' journey of the Jewish people from Egypt in route to the Promised Land. During those years in the desert He provided us with food and water and satisfied all our needs.  God also granted us a special protection in the desert against weather inclemencies, wild animals and other dangers.  By moving into the Sukka and leaving the safety and security of our solid homes, we are reenacting those glorious days when we were under His direct protection, which is ultimately the protection that matters.  
There are many details and specifications as how to build the Sukka.
The basic principles are:
-The walls must be built first, before the sekhakh (covering or roof).  The walls could be made of any material capable of withstanding an average wind.
-On top of the walls we place the 'sekhakh'. For the sekhakh we can use all kind of branches: bamboo branches, or leafy branches, tree branches, etc. There are special curtains made of reeds or bamboo that can be used for this purpose.  

-The 'sekhakh' should provide shadow but it does not suppose to protect us from rain.

(most of these Halakhot are identical for Sephardim and Ashkenzaim)

For an in-depth analysis of the Sephardic view of this last Halakha see the following: 

Tom Norris, an architect from Arizona, showing  how he built his Sukka in 30 minutes
30 minute Sukkah
30 minute Sukkah