Sukkot, Pesach (Passover), and Shavuot are festivals in the Jewish calendar that are mentioned in the Torah and are referred to as “pilgrimage” holidays.

During the Biblical period, while the Temple still stood, people from throughout the Land of Israel traveled to Jerusalem and to the Temple to bring offerings and observe these festivals as a community in Jerusalem. Each of these three major festivals has both agricultural roots and meanings related to the agricultural cycle of the Land of Israel, and historical connections as well.

Sukkot marks the fall harvest after which the rainy season arrives in Israel. Historically, Sukkot recalls the wandering of the Israelites in the desert for forty years prior to their entry into the Land of Israel. The memory of this time period traditionally brings to mind the sense of God’s protection of and presence among the people. Both the agricultural and the historical understandings of Sukkot are reflected in the many and rich symbols and traditions of this holiday. We read:

“You shall take the fruit of goodly trees, branches of palm trees, leafy branches, and willows of the brook, and rejoice with the Lord your God for seven days…You will dwell in booths (sukkot) seven days…that your generations will know that I made the children of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt…” (excerpts from Vayikra, Leviticus 23: 40-43)

From these verses are derived some of the major observances of Sukkot: to dwell in a sukkah and to gather “the four species.”

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