The history of Sukkot

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Five days after Yom Kippur, the Jew is commanded to observe the Feast of Tabernacles. Sukkot is one of the three Pilgrimage Festivals, the origin of which dates back to very ancient times. Like Pesah and Shavuot, it was celebrated as an agricultural festival long before it was associated with any specific events in Jewish history. Sukkot was originally a harvest festival at which time the farmer would celebrate the reaping of the seasonal fruit and the gathering of the vintage. The celebration also signified the closing of the agricultural year. It was customary for the farmer to dwell in a booth for protection against wild beasts. Later the holiday took on a historical meaning. The booths served to recall the frail shelters that the Hebrews inhabited during their sojourn in the wilderness. Thus it became customary to build temporary quarters every year to recall the Exodus.

A third concept was later incorporated into the meaning of the holiday. The Jew was commanded to express thanksgiving for the bounty of nature. The hut was to be decorated with seasonal fruit to recall gratitude to God for the gifts of nature.

The Sukkah serves also to remind us of the frailty of man and his dependence on God for material blessings. The roof is covered with leaves and branches, and the walls are improvised, emphasizing man's mortal nature, his need for God's beneficence. The emphasis was most timely, especially since the fanner, impressed with his abundant crop, might consider himself and not God responsible for his bounteous harvest. He goes forth, then, from his solid home to a frail hut which is vulnerable to floods and winds, thus submitting himself to divine protection and displaying utter trust in God.
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