A recent post on the Union for Reform Judaism's website, RJ.org, by guest blogger Barry Shainker, provides A Sukkot Primer. There, he notes that the Sukkot Festival has its origins in the Torah:
Sukkot is drawn directly from our sacred texts, where it is mentioned as “the festival of the seventh month,” the Feast of Ingathering, and the Feast of the God. The role that Sukkot plays as a fall harvest festival is also evident in the words of our tradition; Exodus tells us to gather the labors from fields at the end of the year. In addition, the structures that we dwell in also are intended to remind us of the dwelling places of our ancestors during the journey from slavery to freedom; in Leviticus, Moses commands the people to live in sukkot (literally booths) for seven days to remind all future generations of the journey.
Shainker goes on to remind us that Sukkot is a continuation of the Jewish holiday season (see our previous post, Our Holiday Season):
Our observance of Sukkot completes the fall High Holy Day season. We begin each year with Rosh Hashanah, and then Yom Kippur 10 days later. Five days after we complete our fast, Sukkot begins. In ancient times, Israelites observed the holiday by bringing crops from their fall harvest to the Temple. Today many congregations symbolically complete these rituals by decorating our pulpits with fall fruits. In addition, with the spirit of offerings in mind, foods are often donated to local food banks or shelters.Indeed, for us as Reform Jews, Sukkot stands as a call to social action, and in particular, to feed the hungry. And we at Congregation Adas Emuno are proud to say that our congregants have been especially generous in providing food donations for our local food pantry.
Of course, Sukkot centers around the sukkah, and this year we will be enjoying a brand new one on our temple grounds. As Shainker explains,
The week-long festival opens with a holy day, on which many attend special worship services that feature a traditional liturgy and special prayers for the holiday. Throughout the week, it is customary to spend time in the sukkah, usually for meals. Jewish law prescribes the building standards for the structure: It must have at least three walls made of any substance, while the fourth may remain open. The roof of the sukkah can provide shade, but it must remain open to the sky and stars; usually s’chach—leaves, branches, and plants that have grown from the ground—is used for the incomplete covering.In addition to the sukkah, the symbols of Sukkot include the etrog, a citrus fruit native to the land of Israel:
And to return to Shainker's Sukkot overview,
Inside the sukkah, we bring together the Four Species mentioned in Leviticus and the Talmud to help us fulfill the various mitzvot of the holiday. The lulav, containing the palm, myrtle, and willow, and the etrog are shaken in six directions to indicate God’s presence in all of creation. In addition, we also are encouraged to welcome ushpizin, or exalted guests, into our sukkah. Traditionally these guests are the spirits of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, and David. The integration of women into Jewish tradition has given us a list of women to include as well: Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, Leah, Miriam, Deborah, Esther, and Ruth. Welcoming guests into our sukkah, just as we welcome them to the Passover seder, has come to represent a modern interpretation of this traditional practice.