Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret, and Simchat Torah

A Bissel of This and That

Sukkot (Feast of Booths or Tabernacles) is one of the three biblically based pilgrimage holidays known as the shalosh regalim and is celebrated five days after Yom Kippur on the 15th of the Hebrew month of Tishrei. This year it is observed from October 2-9, 2020. It is an agricultural festival that originally was considered a thanksgiving for the fruit harvest. The holiday has also come to commemorate the 40 years of Jewish wandering in the desert after the giving of the Torah atop Mt. Sinai.

Sukkot is the only festival associated with an explicit commandment to rejoice and is marked by several distinct traditions. One, which takes the commandment to dwell in booths literally, is to erect a sukkah, a small, temporary booth or hut. Sukkot (the plural of sukkah) are commonly used during the seven-day festival for eating, entertaining and even for sleeping. Sukkot have open walls and open doors, and this encourages us to welcome as many people as we can to rejoice, eat, and share what we have with each other.

The enforced simplicity of eating and perhaps also living in a temporary shelter during Sukkot focuses our minds on the important things in life and divorces us from the material possessions of the modern world that dominate so many of our lives. Even so, Sukkot is a joyful holiday and justifiably referred to as Z’man Simchateinu (Season of Our Rejoicing).

In commemoration of the bounty of the Holy Land, four special species of vegetation (arba minim), consisting of palm, myrtle, and willow (lulav), together with citron (etrog) are held and shaken. When reciting the blessing over the lulav and etrog, one should wave them in six directions—north, south, east, west, up, and down. This action symbolizes that G-d can be found in all directions, not only in one particular place.

At the conclusion of Sukkot are the two holidays of Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah (Oct. 10-11, 2020). In Israel they are combined into one holiday, while in the Diaspora (outside of Israel) they are observed separately from one another on two consecutive days. Shemini Atzeret means the “Eighth Day of Assembly,” while Simchat Torah means “Rejoicing in Torah.”

Beginning on Shemini Atzeret and lasting until Pesach (Passover), a short prayer for rain is inserted into the second blessing of the Amidah Prayer. It is traditional to include the Yizkor, or memorial service, as part of the liturgy for this day. Simchat Torah is characterized by joyful dancing with the Torah. The final portion of the Book of Deuteronomy is read in the synagogue followed by the beginning of the Book of Genesis. In this manner, the annual cycle of Torah readings continues unbroken.

Sources of Information:;;;