More Sukkot Traditions
It is a special mitzvah to rejoice on the biblical holiday of Sukkot. To this end, the intermediate days of Sukkot (which we are this week on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday) are marked by celebrations called Simchat Beit HaSho'eva, commemorating the water libations that were offered during Sukkot in the Holy Temple.
Sukkot is closely connected to "water," as it is the day of universal judgment with regard to the blessings of rain and irrigation for the coming year.
Sukkot is also a time of universal blessing for all peoples symbolized by the 70 additional offerings brought in the Temple, corresponding to the 70 nations of the world.
The Book of Ecclesiastes, written by King Solomon, is read on Shabbat during Sukkot. The theme of Ecclesiastes is the folly of pursuing temporal pleasures of this world, as opposed to more eternal spiritual pursuits. Indeed, the Sukkah's flimsy construction reminds us that material possessions are transient.
The seventh day of Sukkot is called Hoshana Rabba, which features seven circuits around the bima, with the Four Species in hand. The procession culminates with the beating of the willow branch. Hoshana Rabba is known as the day of the final sealing of judgment which began on Rosh Hashana. On Hoshana Rabba, some have the custom to read the Book of Deuteronomy and stay up all night studying Torah.
Shmini Atzeret and Simchat Torah
Immediately following Sukkot is one more holiday called Shmini Atzeret, literally the "Eighth Day of Assembly." This is a time to cease the busy activity of the holiday season and simply savor the special relationship with the Almighty before heading out into the long winter season. It is a separate holiday from Sukkot, meaning that the She'hecheyanu blessing is recited, and the obligation to sit in the Sukkah does not apply.
On Shmini Atzeret, Yizkor is recited in the synagogue.
The next day is Simchat Torah, which celebrates the completion and new beginning of the annual Torah reading cycle. In the synagogue, all the Torah scrolls are taken out of the Ark, and the congregation dances "seven circuits" amidst great joy and song. Click here for the text and audio recordings of the most popular Simchat Torah melodies.
In Israel, Simchat Torah is held the same day as Shmini Atzeret.
Wishing you a joyful Sukkot!
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