Sukkot is an autumnal harvest festival that also includes the final prayers of Rosh Hashana & Kippur. It is known as Zeman Simha’teinu (Time of Our Joy). For a look at last week’s mitsvot and customs (Sukkah & Arba Minim), please click here.

This week we’ll look briefly at laws and customs of Hoshana Rabbah, Shemini Atseret & Simhat Torah.

1. To preserve the ancient tradition when the Kohanim circled the Mizbe’akh (Altar) in the Beit HaMikdash, today we take out a Torah from the Heikhal and make a circuit around the Teibah each day of Sukkot (except for Shabbat). The circuits are made while holding the Lulab & Etrog.

2. On Hoshana Rabbah (Sunday 4 Oct), the final day for penitential prayers and for using the Lulab & Etrog, some have the custom to remain awake all night reciting a special order of readings (Tikun).

In the morning after Shaharit, seven circuits are made holding the Arba Minim,Selihot prayers are recited and the Shofar is blown. At the end of the service, the willows are beat on the ground 5 times – a custom dating back to the days of the Prophets.

3. We continue to use the Sukkah on Shemini Atseret (both at night and during the day) but without making the berakha Leisheb BaSukkah. At night women will add the blessing She’he’hiyanu when lighting candles, it is also added during eveningKiddush.

At Musaf we add the beautifully poetic Prayer for Rain. We then begin sayingMashib HaRu’ah U’Morid HaGeshem in the Amidah (until Pesah).

4. On the eve of Simhat Torah after Arbit, the Torahs are taken from the Heikhaland the congregation dances with them around the Teibah. It is the Sephardi custom not to read from the Torah on the eve of Simhat Torah. During evening Kiddush at home, once again She’he’hiyanu is added.

5. Some have custom to dance with the Torah in the morning as well. The hazanreads from VeZot HaBerakha enabling all who wish to be called-up to get an aliyah.The penultimate call-up is for the children in the community who join the Rabbi and are then blessed by the Kohanim.

6. The Hatan Torah reads his portion until the end when immediately the Hatan Bereishith reads his portion – the first 7 days of creation. Kaddish is recited after the second reading. It is a custom to give sweets to children on Simhat Torah to increase their sense of joy.

Shabbat Hol HaMoed Sukkot (Shemot 33:12-34:26)
Summary: The Torah portion on Shabbat Hol HaMoed Sukkot is from Parshat Ki Tisa – just after the Golden Calf incident. In the first aliyah Moshe beseeches the Almighty for Bnei Yisrael to continue to find favour in G-d’s eyes. The second and third aliyot express Moshe’s request to see G-d and the compromise to allow Moshe to see ‘My glory in retrospect’.

The fourth and fifth aliyot record Moshe’s second journey up Mt Sinai with freshly carved tablets. As G-d descended again onto the mountain, Moshe read-out the 13 Attributes asking G-d to forgive the peoples’ sin. G-d responded with the offer of a new covenant. The sixth and seventh aliyot expound the terms of that new covenant, reiterating the command to observe the foot-festivals.

Maftir is from Parshat Pinhas Numbers 29. The Haftarah, from Ezekiel 38, is appropriately, the end-of-days cataclysmic War of Gog & Magog.

Comment: In the first chapter of the Babylonian Talmud (Sukkah 5) we are told the minimum height of a Sukkah is 10 tefahim (hand-breadths) or roughly 80cms. Curiously, the Rabbis discuss whether the Divine Presence ever descended to Earth and whether Moshe ever ascended into Heaven. Quoting a verse (And G-d descended onto Mt Sinai … and Moshe ascended.’ Shemot 19:20), they assert that G-d never descended below, nor did Moshe rise above 10 tefahim – a liminal measurement for experiencing the Divine Presence (Shehinah).

The significance of this in the context of a discussion of the minimum measurement of a Sukkah may offer insight into a simple spiritual principle. The Sukkah is our effort to put into practice all the recent promises of fidelity, loyalty and allegiance made during Rosh Hashana and Kippur. Dwelling in a Sukkah represents Divine protection in the Sinai desert via the Clouds of Glory. A Sukkah exposes us to potentially harsh elements in nature, bringing us to recognise our dependence on the Almighty for shelter and protection – our vulnerability.

The Rabbinic argument that the Almighty descends not to man’s level but to a height just above 10 tefahim, informs us that if we want G-d to dwell (leShakhen) among us especially in the Sukkah – we must reach up beyond our comfort zone to initiate contact. One best way to do so is by ‘extending’ ourselves to those who are also vulnerable.

For a brilliantly stirring 6-minute animation ‘Why I Am a Jew’ from Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks click here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *