It is said that during every Jewish Holiday, the same holiness in the air returns each year as it existed during the first. In order to obtain this holiness, you need to understand the true meaning of the holiday! To help everyone reach this, there are steps to follow. Sukkot is an 8-day (7 if you live in Israel) celebration of the harvest, appreciating the food that G-d has blessed us with. And, to help us achieve a meaningful level of appreciation, we sit (some people will fully reside) in a Sukkah. Sitting in a hut, helps us connect with our ancestors. We try to mimic physically their circumstances as they wandered in the desert for 40 years. Sukkot is a time to be thanking G-d and be appreciative of everything He has given us.
Step #1: Building a Sukkah.
The Sukkah has to have a minimum of three walls. Sometimes people will have a fourth wall to act as a door. As long as the material used to build the walls can withstand wind, it is kosher. The roof is usually made of leaves and branches, and the thickness should be enough to provide shade from the sun so that you are comfortable sitting in the Sukkah, but it needs to be not so thick that you cannot see the stars at night.
Step #2: Make your Sukkah beautiful and give everyone in the family a job.
Everyone should be involved! Have the children decorate the walls, and make it feel like a home. Traditionally, people also decorate the sukkah with fruit and vegetables. Often these are hung from the roof.
Step #3: You should be happy and comfortable in the Sukkah.
In the book of Leviticus, the Jewish people are commanded to dwell in the Sukkah. There are different opinions on what that entails, but everyone agrees that you should have all of your meals in the Sukkah and invite guests. Enjoy your time!. (You may even enjoy sleeping under the stars.)
Step #4: Davening.
There is an emphasis on the holy nature of the first 2 days of Sukkot. The rules of these 48 hours are similar to Shabbat. Luckily, on Sukkot, you can still cook. The five following days are called Chol Hamoed (“intermediate days”), during which you are allowed to work. But, even during Chol Hamoed, you should still eat in and spend time in the Sukkah. The prayers during Sukkot are also extra special. Hallel is to be recited every day, although this differs between the first two days and Chol Hamoed. On the first two days, the Amida is replaced with a special variation. On Chol Hamoed, Yaa’le V’avo is added into the Amida. While the holiday of Sukkot is heavily focused on spending time with family in the Sukkah, it is also important to attend services at Synagogue. After Hallel is recited, a special prayer is recited with everyone that asks G-d for forgiveness. Coming together as a community is a special experience during Sukkot, it is showing G-d the strong and united nation He built!
Step #5: Shaking the Lulav and Etrog.
A lulav is made up of two willow branches, a palm leaf, and three myrtle branches. You have to be very careful making sure that the Etrog is kosher, which means that the stem (pitum) is still in this bright yellow fruit. Certain people have the practice to use estrogs that grow without a pitum, and this is Kosher as well. Now that all the “species” are assembled (referred to as the “Arbat Ha’Minim”), the actual performance can be performed. First, you have to hold the lulav in your right hand and the etrog in your left. Second, recite the brachah. Third, shake the lulav and estrog to the north, south, east, west, up, and down. Children will practice these movements in school just to be well prepared for Sukkot. This tradition symbolizes many different but connected ideas, but in the end, it is a demonstration of the unity of the Jewish people and that G-d is everywhere!
To help yourself truly grasp the meaning of Sukkot, it is recommended to read the origins of the holiday in the Torah. By reading the holy words said to Moshe by G-d, you will feel connected and close to the holiday. There are hundreds of ideas revolving around Sukkot, with dozens upon dozens of Rabbis investigating the Torah and finding deeply rooted messages that may be hidden at first glance. Diving into articles that discuss these messages (essays, D’vrei Torah) can also help you connect to Sukkot. It might feel like an old holiday that is irrelevant to some people, but once you truly understand the meaning, the importance becomes crystal clear. It is a commandment for people to be thankful for and to enjoy life and its blessings. If you have a smile on your face and you are helping unite the Jewish people, then you understand the meaning!