Do you like camping? The Torah directs the Jews to celebrate Sukkot by leaving our homes and moving to temporary structures roofed in foliage called sukkot, “because I caused Israel to dwell in sukkot when I took them out of Egypt.” (Lev. 23:43) It sounds simple, but identifying these huts in the original biblical desert camping trip is actually not so straightforward. What really were these huts? And what is their significance for us today?
Furthermore, unlike Passover and Shavuot that commemorate specific events in time, i.e., leaving Egypt and receiving the Torah, the Israelites apparently dwelled in sukkot continuously for forty years. Why then, do we celebrate Sukkot specifically in the fall?
On a basic level, a simple response to that question would be, that Sukkot, like the other two major festivals mentioned above, combines both historical and agricultural traditions. It commemorates the shelter experienced by the Israelites in the desert, celebrates the end-of summer harvest and kicks-off the winter growing season with supplications for rain. Thus, celebration of Sukkot in the fall is not because of our desert experiences but because of the agricultural calendar. But in addition, we will see that there is a deeper connection between water and Sukkot that goes beyond agricultural needs.
By revisiting the Israelite wanderings in the desert and examining the motifs of water and divine shelter in the midrash, we will gain a new understanding of Sukkot as well as God’s nurturing,
parental love for Israel. These insights will not only enhance our experience of this colorful holiday, but also illuminate our relationship to year-round concerns such as consumption, care
provision, the environment and gender.
Click here to read the full unit from ICJW Bea Zucker Calendar Study Series, “Feminist Inspiration for Living on the Jewish Cycle”.