Chanukah

CHANUKAH
THE FESTIVAL OF LIGHTS

Below is a short description of this holiday (also called the Festival of Lights) and its meaning, together with some of the special traditions and foods related to this holiday.

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What Is Hanukkah?
Info you need about Chanukah

Chanukah is the Jewish eight-day, wintertime “festival of lights,” celebrated with a nightly menorah lighting, special prayers and fried foods.

The Hebrew word Chanukah means “dedication,” and is thus named because it celebrates the rededication of the Holy Temple (as you’ll read below).

What Chanukah Commemorates

In the second century BC, the Holy Land was ruled by the Seleucids (Syrian-Greeks), who tried to force the people of Israel to accept Greek culture and beliefs instead of mitzvah observance and belief in God. Against all odds, a small band of faithful but poorly armed Jews, led by Judah the Maccabee, defeated one of the mightiest armies on earth, drove the Greeks from the land, reclaimed the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and rededicated it to the service of God.

When they sought to light the Temple’s Menorah (the seven-branched candelabrum), they found only a single cruse of olive oil that had escaped contamination by the Greeks. Miraculously, they lit the menorah and the one-day supply of oil lasted for eight days, until new oil could be prepared under conditions of ritual purity.

To commemorate and publicize these miracles, the sages instituted the festival of Chanukah.

When is Chanukah?

Chanukah begins on the eve of Kislev 25 and continues for eight days. On the civil calendar, it generally coincides with the month of December. Chanukah 2020 runs from Dec. 10-18.

About Chanukah, the festival of lights

The Story of Chanukah

More than 2000 years ago there was a time when the land of Israel was part of the Syrian-Greek Empire, dominated by Syrian rulers of the dynasty of the Seleucids.

In order to relate the story that led up to Chanukah, we shall start with Antiochus III, the King of Syria, who reigned from 222-186 B.C. He had waged war with King Ptolemy of Egypt over the possession of the Land of Israel. Antiochus III was victorious and the Land of Israel was annexed to his empire. At the beginning of his reign, he was favorably disposed toward the Jews and accorded them some privileges. Later on, however, when he was beaten by the Romans and compelled to pay heavy taxes, the burden fell upon the various peoples of his empire who were forced to furnish the heavy gold that was required of him by the Romans. When Antiochus died, his son Seleucus IV took over, and further oppressed the Jews.

Added to the troubles from the outside were the grave perils that threatened Judaism from within. The influence of the Hellenists (people who accepted idol-worship and the Syrian way of life) was increasing. Yochanan, the High Priest, foresaw the danger to Judaism from the penetration of Syrian-Greek influence into the Holy Land. For, in contrast to the ideal of outward beauty held by the Greeks and Syrians, Judaism emphasizes truth and moral purity, as commanded by God in the holy Torah. The Jewish people could never give up their faith in God and accept the idol-worship of the Syrians.

Yochanan was therefore opposed to any attempt on the part of the Jewish Hellenists to introduce Greek and Syrian customs into the land. The Hellenists hated him. One of them told the King’s commissioner that in the treasury of the Temple there was a great deal of wealth.

The wealth in the treasury consisted of the contributions of “half a shekel” made by all adult Jews annually. That was given for the purpose of the sacrifices on the altar, as well as for fixing and improving the Temple building. Another part of the treasury consisted of orphans’ funds which were deposited for them until they became of age. Seleucus needed money in order to pay the Romans. He sent his minister Helyodros to take the money from the treasury of the Temple. In vain did Yochanan, the High Priest, beg him not to do it. Helyodros did not listen and entered the gate of the Temple. But suddenly, he became pale with fright. The next moment he fainted and fell to the ground. After Helyodros came to, he did not dare enter again.

The Madman: Antiochus

A short time later, Seleucus was killed and his brother Antiochus IV began to reign over Syria (174 B.C). He was a tyrant of a rash and impetuous nature, contemptuous of religion and of the feelings of others. He was called “Epiphanes,” meaning “the gods’ beloved.” Several of the Syrian rulers received similar titles. But a historian of his time, Polebius, gave him the epithet Epimanes (“madman”), a title more suitable to the character of this harsh and cruel king.

Desiring to unify his kingdom through the medium of a common religion and culture, Antiochus tried to root out the individualism of the Jews by suppressing all the Jewish Laws. He removed the righteous High Priest, Yochanan, from the Temple in Jerusalem, and in his place installed Yochanan’s brother Joshua, who loved to call himself by the Greek name of Jason. For he was a member of the Hellenist party, and he used his high office to spread more and more of the Greek customs among the priesthood.

Joshua or Jason was later replaced by another man, Menelaus, who had promised the king that he would bring in more money than Jason did. When Yochanan, the former High Priest, protested against the spread of the Hellenists’ influence in the Holy Temple, the ruling High Priest hired murderers to assassinate him.

Antiochus was at that time engaged in a successful war against Egypt. But messengers from Rome arrived and commanded him to stop the war, and he had to yield. Meanwhile, in Jerusalem, a rumor spread that a serious accident had befallen Antiochus. Thinking that he was dead, the people rebelled against Menelaus. The treacherous High Priest fled together with his friends.

Mattityahu

Antiochus’s men went from town to town and from village to village to force the inhabitants to worship pagan gods. Only one refuge area remained and that was the hills of Judea with their caves. But even there did the Syrians pursue the faithful Jews, and many a Jew died a martyr’s death.

One day the henchmen of Antiochus arrived in the village of Modiin where Mattityahu, the old priest, lived. The Syrian officer built an altar in the marketplace of the village and demanded that Mattityahu offer sacrifices to the Greek gods. Mattityahu replied, “I, my sons and my brothers are determined to remain loyal to the covenant which our God made with our ancestors!”

Thereupon, a Hellenistic Jew approached the altar to offer a sacrifice. Mattityahu grabbed his sword and killed him, and his sons and friends fell upon the Syrian officers and men. They killed many of them and chased the rest away. They then destroyed the altar.

Mattityahu knew that Antiochus would be enraged when he heard what had happened. He would certainly send an expedition to punish him and his followers. Mattityahu, therefore, left the village of Modiin and fled together with his sons and friends to the hills of Judea.

All loyal and courageous Jews joined them. They formed legions and from time to time they left their hiding places to fall upon enemy detachments and outposts, and to destroy the pagan altars that were built by order of Antiochus.

The Maccabees

Before his death, Mattityahu called his sons together and urged them to continue to fight in defense of God’s Torah. He asked them to follow the counsel of their brother Shimon the Wise. In waging warfare, he said, their leader should be Judah the Strong. Judah was called “Maccabee,” a word composed of the initial letters of the four Hebrew words Mi Kamocha Ba’eilim Hashem, “Who is like You, O’ God.”

Antiochus sent his General Apolonius to wipe out Judah and his followers, the Maccabees. Though greater in number and equipment than their adversaries, the Syrians were defeated by the Maccabees. Antiochus sent out another expedition which also was defeated. He realized that only by sending a powerful army could he hope to defeat Judah and his brave fighting men.

An army consisting of more than 40,000 men swept the land under the leadership of two commanders, Nicanor and Gorgiash. When Judah and his brothers heard of that, they exclaimed: “Let us fight unto death in defense of our souls and our Temple!” The people assembled in Mitzpah, where Samuel, the prophet of old, had offered prayers to God. After a series of battles the war was won.

The Dedication (Chanukah is Hebrew)

Now the Maccabees returned to Jerusalem to liberate it. They entered the Temple and cleared it of the idols placed there by the Syrian vandals. Judah and his followers built a new altar, which he dedicated on the twenty-fifth of the month of Kislev, in the year 139 B.C.

Since the golden Menorah had been stolen by the Syrians, the Maccabees now made one of cheaper metal. When they wanted to light it, they found only a small cruse of pure olive oil bearing the seal of the High Priest Yochanan. It was sufficient to light only for one day. By a miracle of God, it continued to burn for eight days, till new oil was made available. That miracle proved that God had again taken His people under His protection. In memory of this, our sages appointed these eight days for annual thanksgiving and for lighting candles.

How Chanukah Is Observed

At the heart of the festival is the nightly menorah lighting. The menorah holds nine flames, one of which is the shamash (“attendant”), which is used to kindle the other eight lights. On the first night, we light just one flame. On the second night, an additional flame is lit. By the eighth night of Chanukah, all eight lights are kindled.

Special blessings are recited, often to a traditional melody, before the menorah is lit, and traditional songs are sung afterward.

A menorah is lit in every household (or even by each individual within the household) and placed in a doorway or window. The menorah is also lit in synagogues and other public places.

The Menorah

The basic elements of a kosher menorah are eight holders for oil or candles and an additional holder, set apart from the rest, for the shamash (“attendant”) candle.

The Chanukah lights can either be candle flames or oil-fueled. Since the miracle of Chanukah happened with olive oil – the little cruse of oil that lasted for eight days – an oil menorah is preferable to a candle one, and olive oil is the ideal fuel. Cotton wicks are preferred because of the smooth flame they produce.

The eight candles of the menorah must be arranged in a straight, even line, not in a zigzag or with some lights higher than others. If it is an oil menorah, the oil cups must hold enough oil to burn for the required time – at least 30 minutes on weeknights, and up to one-and-a-half hours on Friday evening. If it is a candle menorah, the candles should be large enough to burn for the required time.

Who Lights the Menorah

Men and women alike are obligated to participate in the menorah lighting. In some families, the head of the household lights the family menorah while everyone else listens to the blessings and answers, “Amen.” In many other families, all members of the household, including children, light their own menorahs. Either way, it is important for everyone to be present and involved when the Chanukah miracle is festively commemorated.

Where to Light

Light the menorah in your own home. If you are traveling out of town, set up your menorah wherever you will be staying for the night.

In the home, there are two preferred locations for the menorah.

You can set up the menorah in a central doorway. Place it on a chair or small table near the doorpost that is opposite the mezuzah. Ideally, the menorah lights should be between 12 and 40 inches off the ground.

Or you can set up your menorah on a windowsill facing the street. This option should only be exercised if the window is less than thirty feet above ground-level.

When to Light

The Chanukah lights are kindled every night of Chanukah. The Maccabees chased away the forces of darkness with swords; we do it with light.

The custom of many communities is to light the menorah shortly after sunset. In other communities, the menorah is kindled after nightfall (approximately thirty minutes after sunset). Regardless of the custom you follow on other Chanukah nights, on Friday night the menorah is lit before sunset, and on Saturday night it is lit after nightfall.

Ideally, you should light the menorah at the earliest possible opportunity. Only delay if you are awaiting the arrival of family members who wish to be present when the menorah is lit.

Lighting the Menorah

1. Arrange the lights on the menorah. Ensure that there is enough oil, or that the candles are big enough, for the lights to burn until half an hour after nightfall (or, if lighting after nightfall, for one half hour). On the first night, set one candle to the far right of the menorah. On the following night, add a second light to the left of the first one, and then add one light each night of Chanukah – moving from right to left.

2. Gather everyone in the house around the menorah.

3. Light the shamash candle. Then hold it in your right hand (unless you are left-handed).

4. While standing, recite the appropriate blessings.

5. Light the candles. Each night, light the newest (left-most) candle first and continue lighting from left to right. (We add lights to the menorah from right to left, while we light from left to right.)

The Menorah Blessings

Before lighting the Chanukah candles, we thank God for giving us this special mitzvah, and for the incredible Chanukah miracles:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה אֲדֹנָי אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו וְצִוָּנוּ לְהַדְלִיק נֵר חֲנֻכָּה
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה אֲדֹנָי אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם שֶׁעָשָׂה נִסִּים לַאֲבוֹתֵינוּ בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם בִּזְּמַן הַזֶּה

Bah-rookh ah-tah ah-doh-noi eh-loh-hay-noo meh-lekh hah-oh-lahm ah-sher ki-deh-shah-noo beh-mitz-voh-tahv veh-tzee-vah-noo leh-hahd-lik nayr kha-noo-kah.
Bah-rookh ah-tah ah-doh-noi eh-loh-hay-noo meh-lekh hah-oh-lahm sheh-ah-sah nee-sim lah-ah-voh-tay-noo bah-yah-mim hah-haym biz-mahn hah-zeh.

Blessed are You, Lord our G‑d, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments, and commanded us to kindle the Chanukah light.
Blessed are You, Lord our G‑d, King of the universe, who performed miracles for our forefathers in those days, at this time.

On the first night of Chanukah, Thursday, Dec. 10, 2020 (or the first time on Chanukah you perform this mitzvah), add the following blessing:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה אֲדֹנָי אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם שֶׁהֶחֱיָנוּ וְקִיְּמָנוּ וְהִגִּיעָנוּ לִזְּמַן הַזֶּה

Bah-rookh ah-tah ah-doh-noi eh-loh-hay-noo meh-lekh hah-oh-lahm sheh-heh-kheh-yah-noo veh-kee-mah-noo ve-hig-ee-yah-noo liz-mahn hah-zeh.

Blessed are You, Lord our G‑d, King of the universe, who has granted us life, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this occasion.

Dreidel: the Chanukah Game

On Chanukah, it is customary to play with a “dreidel” (a four-sided spinning top bearing the Hebrew letters, nungimmelhei and shin, an acronym for nes gadol hayah sham, “a great miracle happened there”). The game is usually played for a pot of coins, nuts, or other stuff, which is won or lost based on which letter the dreidel lands when it is spun.

In Israel, the actual setting of the Chanukah miracle, the last letter, shin, is substituted with a pey (פ), which stands for po—”here.”

Getting Your Dreidel Game Started

In addition to dreidels, you’ll need the the currency—nuts, pennies, nickels, chocolate coins, or just about anything else…

All players sit around the playing area.

The currency is equally divided amongst all players.

Everyone takes a turn at spinning the dreidel; the one with the highest spin has first turn. (Nun is highest, then gimmelhey, and shin.) If there is a tie for highest, those who tied spin again.

Everyone puts one unit of the currency (penny, nut, etc.) into the pot.

The one who has first turn is followed in clockwise direction by all the others.

How to Play Dreidel

If the dreidel lands on a…

Hebrew letter Nun

Nun Absolutely nothing happens. Nun stands for the Yiddish word nul, which means zero. It’s time for the player to your left to take a spin.

Hebrew letter Gimel

Gimel You get to take the whole pot! Gimmel stands for gantz, which means whole. Everyone, including you, now puts another unit into the pot, and the person to your left tries his luck at spinning.

Hebrew letter Hey

Hey You get to take half of the pot. Hey stands for halb, half. If the pot has an odd amount of units, don’t try to split that penny, nut, or piece of chocolate in half. Leave the odd item there.

Hebrew letter Shin

Shin You put a unit into the pot. Shin is for shenk; yes, that means “give.”


You can speed up the game by upping the ante, raising shin and post-gimmel contributions to two, three or even four units.

Any player that cannot contribute after landing on a shin or after a fellow player lands on a gimmel, is out of the game. The game ends when there is one player left.

The traditional Chanukah dreidel is a throwback to the times when the Greek armies of King Antiochus controlled the Holy Land, before the Maccabees defeated them. The powerful regime passed a series of laws outlawing the study of Torah and many of the mitzvot. The Jews were compelled to take their Torah learning “underground, pretending they are playing games.

Chanukah Food

Since the Chanukah miracle involved oil, it is customary to eat foods fried in oil. The Eastern-European classic is the potato latke (pancake) garnished with applesauce or sour cream, and the reigning Israeli favorite is the jelly-filled sufganya (doughnut).

Chanukah food traditions have their origins in the first years that the holiday was celebrated and are meant to remind us of certain miracles associated with the events of Chanukah itself. And, of course, remembering the miracles and the freedom that we’re all celebrating adds a special flavor to everything we serve. 


Sufganiyot (Doughnuts)
There are many recipes for these Chanukah doughnuts, this recipe is the typical traditional “jelly doughnuts”, meaning they are filled with your choice of jelly, whatever you like, and represent this holiday very well. Sufganiyot (Hebrew for doughnuts) are synonymous with Chanukah.

Below, is a short video on how to bake these Sufganiyot and how to shape them

How to shape Sufganiyot into their round shape

Potato Latkes
You’ll need onion, oil, salt, potatoes, eggs, flour and oil. While the recipe works with any type of potato, using Yukon Gold will be much more aesthetically pleasing because they discolor much more slowly than other potatoes and will keep your mixture looking bright and fresh for longer. They also have a buttery taste which will take your latkes to the next level.

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Water Drawing Ceremony

The Joyous Water-Drawing Ceremony
Simchat Beit Hashoeivah

He who has not seen the Water-Drawing Celebration has never seen joy in his life (Talmud)

Every Jewish festival is celebrated with joy. Often there are additional emotions added to the mix: awe on Rosh Hashanah, regret on Yom Kippur, freedom from oppression on Passover. But the holiday of Sukkot is pure joy. In our prayers, we call it simply “the season of our rejoicing.”

Sukkot in the Temple

One of Sukkot’s most joyous observances was known as Simchat Beit Hashoeivah, the Celebration of the Water-Drawing. When the Holy Temple stood, every sacrifice included wine libations poured over the altar. On Sukkot, water was also poured over the altar in a special ceremony. This ritual engendered such joy that it was celebrated with music, dancing and singing all night long.

Every morning of Sukkot at daybreak, a group of Levites and priests went down to the Shiloach stream, which ran south of the Temple Mount, and drew three log (a Talmudic liquid measurement) of fresh water to be poured on the altar after the daily morning sacrifice. Their arrival at the Temple with the water was accompanied by trumpet blasts.(For Shabbat, the water was collected before the onset of Shabbat and stored in a golden vessel in the Temple.)

There were two holes in the altar into which liquid was poured. One hole was for the wine that accompanied every sacrifice, and a second, smaller one was reserved for the Sukkot water. The holes were different sizes to allow the wine and water, which have different consistencies, to drain at the same speed.

The nights of Sukkot were spent celebrating this once-a-year offering. The Talmud describes the celebrations of Simchat Beit Hashoevah in detail: Priests kindled fires on great candelabra, lighting up Jerusalem as if it were the middle of the day. Throughout the night pious men danced holding torches, scholars juggled and Levites played music while the lay people watched with excitement. The Temple courtyard was specially furnished to accommodate this event, and a balcony was erected for women so they could observe the revelry.

Though not explicitly mandated in the Torah, the water libation is part of the oral tradition passed down from Moses. For this reason, the Sadducees, who rejected the Oral Law, bitterly disputed the practice. Once the priest honored to do the libation was sympathetic to the Sadducees and, instead of pouring the water into the hole in the altar, he spilled it on his own feet. The onlookers were horrified and pelted him with their etrogim. From that time on, whoever poured the water libation lifted the jug of water high in the air, so that all could see him perform the mitzvah properly.

Celebrating Today

Even today, when we no longer have a Temple, and the water libation ritual is discontinued, many communities still celebrate Simchat Beit Hashoeivah with music and dancing during the nights of Sukkot, in keeping with the Torah’s directive, “You shall rejoice on your holiday.

Why was this event accompanied by such fanfare and celebration? Part of the answer is that Jews of old were happy to demonstrate their fealty to tradition, even those traditions not specified in the Torah. In addition, the water-drawing was said to be accompanied by a great awareness of God, to the degree that it is said that, along with water, people would “draw” prophetic revelation.

The chassidic masters explain that the water celebration signifies a joy caused by a connection to God so deep and so true that, like water, it has no describable taste. And like water, it sustains all life.


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Hakhel

What Is Hakhel?
Hakhel: Then & Today

Picture this scene: Millions of Jews – men and women, infants and their great-grandmothers, scholars and laypeople – assembled in Jerusalem on the Temple Mount. A hush falls over the mammoth crowd, as the royally bedecked king of Israel ascends on to a platform and reads sections of the holy Torah. The nation is inspired and invigorated. A display of unity and a statement of purpose converge to revitalize and refocus a multifarious people.

Though seemingly improbable, this scene repeated itself in ancient Jerusalem on a septennial basis.

At the end of every seven years, at an appointed time, in the Festival of Sukkot [following] the year of Shemitah. When all Israel comes to appear before the Lord, your G‑d, in the place He will choose, you shall read this Torah before all Israel, in their ears. Assemble the people: the men, the women, the children…— (Deuteronomy 31: 10-12)

.In ancient Israel, every seventh year was a Shemitah (“sabbatical”) year. For an entire year, the nation’s economy came to a standstill as all farmers and agrarian workers abandoned their fields and flocked en masse to the study houses where for a full year they focused on their spiritual, rather than physical needs.

Now, at the onset of the eighth year (the first in the new seven-year cycle), the nation is ready to head back to the fields and orchards. But first, on the second day of the holiday of Sukkot, sixteen days into the new year, all gather in the Holy Temple for a dose of inspiration. Inspiration to tide them over for the next six years, most of whose time would be spent in business endeavors.

…In order that they hear, and in order that they learn and fear the Lord, your G‑d, and they will observe all the words of this Torah.

Reliving Mount Sinai

This event was known as Hakhel, “assemble!” It was the only event that required the attendance of every Jew, reminiscent of the historic moment when our nation stood at Mount Sinai, when every member of our nation was present when G‑d lovingly gave us the Torah.

Once the entire nation had gathered, the king, situated on a specially constructed platform in the Temple’s courtyard, was handed the Torah scroll that Moses himself had written. The king recited a blessing and then read aloud several portions from the Book of Deuteronomy, and then concluded with several more blessings.

…Every individual should see himself as if he is now being commanded, and it is from God’s mouth that he is hearing these words. For the king is only the messenger to announce God’s words

Hakhel Today

The “Hakhel Year” is an opportune time to promote Jewish unity and gathering.
The biblical mitzvah of Hakhel is only in effect when all the Jewish people reside in the Holy Land. However, today when there is no Temple, Jews are still encouraged to assembly on or around Sukkot, when the Hakhel gathering took place in the Holy Temple, but the entire year is a “Hakhel Year,” and an opportune time to promote Jewish unity and gatherings.

The responsibility to arrange Hakhel gatherings lies primarily on the “kings,” i.e. the leaders – rabbis and communal activists – of each community. But during this year everyone should be mindful of any opportunity that presents itself to gather together some Jews and recreate in microcosm the grand Hakhel event.


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How to build a Kosher Sukkah

Building a Kosher Sukkah
The basics of building a sukkah and living inside it

Intro to Sukkah Building

For forty years, as our ancestors traversed the Sinai desert prior to their entry into the Holy Land, miraculous “clouds of glory” surrounded and hovered over them, shielding them from the dangers and discomforts of the desert. In the words of the verse (Leviticus 23:42–43), “For a seven-day period you shall live in booths. Every resident among the Israelites shall live in booths, in order that your [ensuing] generations should know that I had the children of Israel live in booths when I took them out of the land of Egypt. I am the L‑rd, your G‑d.”

Ever since, we remember G‑d’s kindness, and reaffirm our trust in His providence, by “dwelling” in a sukkah for the duration of the Sukkot festival, from the 15th through the 22nd of the Hebrew month of Tishrei (in Israel, through the 21st only).

A sukkah is essentially an outdoor hut that is covered with vegetation, known as sechach. But there are many guidelines and requirements that must be followed in its construction, and regarding the location where it is erected, in order for a sukkah to be deemed “kosher”—fit for use.

There are excellent prefabricated sukkahs available, in a variety of sizes, from many Judaica vendors.

The seven days of Sukkot—celebrated by dwelling in the sukkah, taking the Four Kinds, and rejoicing —are followed by Simchat Torah.

Where Do I Build My Sukkah?

Construct your sukkah outdoors, ideally in a spot that’s most accessible to your residence. Popular sukkah locations include: porches, backyards, courtyards, lawns, balconies and rooftops. Basically, any location under the open sky.

An important requirement is that there should be nothing between your sukkah and the open sky. So make sure that there are no trees, canopies or roofs of any sort overhanging your sukkah.

What Materials Do I Need?

If you’re building your own sukkah, here are the basic materials you will need:

The Walls: The walls of a sukkah can be made of any material, provided that they are sturdy enough that they do not move in a normal wind. You can use wood or fiberglass panels, waterproof fabrics attached to a metal frame, etc. You can also use pre-existing walls (i.e, the exterior walls of your home, patio or garage) as one or more of the sukkah walls. An existing structure that is roofless or has a removable roof can also be made into a sukkah by covering it with proper sechach.

The Roof Covering: The sukkah needs to be covered with sechach—raw, unfinished vegetable matter. Common sukkah roof-coverings are: bamboo poles, evergreen branches, reeds, corn stalks, narrow strips (1×1 or 1×2) of unfinished lumber, or special sechach mats.

Mats made of bamboo, straw or other vegetable matter can be used only if they were made for the purpose of serving as a roof covering.

The sechach must be detached from its source of growth—thus a live trellis, or branches still attached to a tree, cannot be used.

You may use only vegetable matter that has not been previously used for another purpose. Additionally, it must never have acquired the status of a utensil (through being used as part of a crate or tool), nor have been capable of becoming ritually impure.

You may also need some plain, unfinished wood beams to construct a framework on which to lay the sechach.

Chairs and Tables: Remember, you will be taking all your meals in the sukkah for the duration of the festival. Plus, it is a special mitzvah to invite guests to share your sukkah.

Decorations: Many communities decorate the sukkah with colorful posters depicting holiday themes, by hanging fresh fruits or other decorations from the sechach beams, or both.

The Dimensions and Other Requirements

A sukkah must have at least two full walls plus part of a third wall (the “part” needs to be a minimum of 3.2 inches wide). It is preferable, however, that the sukkah have four complete walls.

The Walls: The walls must be at least 32 inches high, and the entire structure may not be taller than 30 feet. In length and breadth, a sukkah cannot be smaller than 22.4 inches by 22.4 inches. There is no size limit in how large—in length and width—a sukkah may be.

The Sechach: There must be sufficient sechach to provide enough shade so that in a bright midday there is more shade than sun seen on the floor of the sukkah. The sechach has to be spread out evenly over the entire sukkah, so that there should not be any gap larger than 9.6 inches.

Anything that is directly supporting the sechach should not be made out of materials that are not fit to be used as sechach. Thus, if the sechach rests directly on the sukkah walls, strips of wood may need to be used to support the sechach. In addition, the sechach should not be be tied with wire or fastened with any metal object.

Some More Details: A sukkah must be built anew every year for the purpose of the mitzvah. This requirement, however, applies only to the sechach, since it is the sechach that makes the sukkah a sukkah. Thus, one can leave the walls standing all year, and place the roof covering before the festival. If the sukkah and the sechach have been up all year, one can simply lift up and replace the sechach, which allows the sukkah to be considered as new.


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Sukkot

Sukkot – The Feast of Tabernacles

The seven days of Sukkot—celebrated by dwelling in the sukkah, taking the Four Kinds, and rejoicing —are followed by Simchat Torah.

Sukkot—when we expose ourselves to the elements in greenery-covered huts—commemorates God  sheltering our ancestors as they traveled from Egypt to the Promised Land. The Four Kinds express our unity and our belief in God’s omnipresence. Coming after the solemn High Holidays, it is a time of joy and happiness

The first two days (or one day in Israel) are yom tov, when work is forbidden, candles are lit in the evening, and festive meals are preceded with Kiddush and contain challah dipped in honey (see the recipe for sweet Challah Bread in Rosh Hashanah). The remainder of the days are quasi holidays, known as chol hamoed. We dwell in the sukkah and take the Four Kinds every day (except for Shabbat, when we do not take the Four Kinds)

What is Sukkot (this year, October 2-9, 2020)?

Sukkot is a weeklong Jewish holiday that comes five days after Yom Kippur. Sukkot celebrates the gathering of the harvest and commemorates the miraculous protection God provided for the children of Israel when they left Egypt. We celebrate Sukkot by dwelling in a foliage-covered booth (known as a sukkah) and by taking the “Four Kinds” (arba minim), four special species of vegetation.

The first two days (sundown on October 2 until nightfall on October 4 in 2020) of the holiday (one day in Israel) are yom tov, when work is forbidden, candles are lit in the evening, and festive meals are preceded by Kiddush and include challah dipped in honey.

The intermediate days (nightfall on October 4 until sundown on October 9 in 2020) are quasi holidays, known as Chol Hamoed. We dwell in the sukkah and take the Four Kinds every day of Sukkot (except for Shabbat, when we do not take the Four Kinds).

The final two days (sundown on October 10 until nightfall on October 11 in 2020) are a separate holiday (one day in Israel): Shemini Atzeret / Simchat Torah.

The significance of Sukkot

Of all the Jewish holidays, Sukkot is the only one whose date does not seem to commemorate a historic event. The Torah refers to it by two names: Chag HaAsif (“the Festival of Ingathering,” or “Harvest Festival”) and Chag HaSukkot (“Festival of Booths”), each expressing a reason for the holiday.

In Israel, crops grow in the winter and are ready for harvest in the late spring. Some of them remain out in the field to dry for a few months and are only ready for harvest in the early fall. Chag HaAsif is a time to express appreciation for this bounty.

The name Chag HaSukkot commemorates the temporary dwellings God made to shelter our ancestors on their way out of Egypt (some say this refers to the miraculous clouds of glory that shielded us from the desert sun, while others say it refers to the tents in which they dwelled for their 40-year trek through the Sinai desert).

Dwelling in the Sukkah

For seven days and nights, we eat all our meals in the sukkah and otherwise regard it as our home. Located under the open sky, the sukkah is made up of at least three walls and a roof of unprocessed natural vegetation—typically bamboo, pine boughs or palm branches.

(Read more here: How to Build a Kosher Sukkah)

The goal is to spend as much time as possible in the sukkah, at the very minimum eating all meals in the sukkah—particularly the festive meals on the first two nights of the holiday, when we must eat at least an olive-sized piece of bread or mezonot (grain-based food) in the sukkah. Some people do not eat or drink anything outside the sukkah, and some even sleep in the sukkah

Taking the Four Kinds

Another Sukkot observance is the taking of the Four Kinds: an etrog (citron), a lulav (palm frond), three hadassim (myrtle twigs) and two aravot (willow twigs).

On each day of the festival (except Shabbat), we take the Four Kinds, recite a blessing over them, bring them together and wave them in all six directions: right, left, forward, up, down and backward. The sages of the Midrash tell us that the Four Kinds represent the various personalities that comprise the community of Israel, whose intrinsic unity we emphasize on Sukkot.

Hoshanah Rabbah – The seventh day of the holiday

Every day of Sukkot we say Hallel, a collection of psalms of praise (Psalms 113-118) as part of the morning prayer service. Every day aside for Shabbat, we recite Hallel while holding the Four Kinds, waving them in all directions at certain key points in the service, which are outlined in the siddur (prayerbook).

Afterward, we circle the bimah (the podium on which the Torah is read) holding the Four Kinds, reciting alphabetically arranged prayers for Divine assistance known as Hoshanot.

The seventh day of the holiday is known as Hoshanah Rabbah. This is the day when our fates for the coming year—which were signed on Rosh Hashanah and sealed on Yom Kippur—are finalized. On this day, we circle the bimah seven times. We also say a short prayer and strike the ground five times with bundles of five willows (also known as Hoshanot)

Sukkot during the time the Temple in Jerusalem existed

In the days of the holy Temple in Jerusalem, there was a special regimen of sacrifices that were to be brought on the altar. On the first day, no less than 13 bulls, two rams, and 14 lambs were to be sacrificed. Every day, the number of bulls was depleted by one. All in all, 70 bulls were brought, corresponding to the 70 nations of the world.

Along with Passover and Shavuot, Sukkot is one of the Shalosh Regalim, the three annual pilgrimages, when every male Jew was to be in Jerusalem. Every seven years, on Sukkot, the king would read aloud from the Torah to the entire nation—men, women and children. This special gathering was known as Hakhel.

(Read more here: What Is Hakhel and how is it done today where there is no Temple?)

Water and Joy

On Sukkot, God determines how much rain will fall that winter (the primary rainy season in Israel). Thus, while every sacrifice in the Temple included wine libations poured over the altar, on Sukkot, water was also poured over the altar in a special ceremony. This ritual engendered such joy that it was celebrated with music, dancing and singing all night long. This celebration was called “Simchat Beit Hasho’evah.”

Even today, when there is no Temple, it is customary to hold nightly celebrations that include singing and dancing (and even live music during the intermediate days of the holiday).

This holiday is so joyous that in Talmudic times, when someone said the word chag (“holiday”) without specifying which one, you could know that they were referring to Sukkot.

(Read more here: The Joyous Water-Drawing Ceremony)

Shemini Atzeret / Simchat Torah: even more joy

The Torah tells us that after the seven days of Sukkot, we should celebrate an eighth day. In the diaspora, this eighth day is doubled, making two days of yom tov. On the final day, it is customary to conclude and then immediately begin the annual cycle of Torah reading, making this day Simchat Torah (“Torah Celebration”).

Although the eighth day follows Sukkot, it is actually an independent holiday in many respects (we no longer take the Four Kinds or dwell in the sukkah). Diaspora Jews eat in the sukkah, but without saying the accompanying blessing (there are some who eat just some of their meals in the sukkah on the eighth day but not the ninth).

The highlight of this holiday is the boisterous singing and dancing in the synagogue, as the Torah scrolls are paraded in circles around the bimah.

Why do Christians celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles?
The biblical importance behind this Feast

The Feast of Tabernacles is one of the seven Feasts of the LORD. It is important to understand that these Feasts are of the LORD. God said, “these are My feasts” (Leviticus 23:2b), and he commanded the Israelites through Moses to observe these Feasts throughout their generations. When we celebrate these Feasts, we are reminded of what God has done in the past and will perform in the future. Let us explain the significance of these Feasts and why Christians should celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles.

These Feasts are holy convocations. The Hebrew word for “feast” is “mo’ed,” and one of its important meanings is “appointed time.” The Hebrew word for “convocation” is “miqra,” which is translated as “rehearsal.” So, the seven Feasts of the LORD are God’s appointed times and dress rehearsals for significant events, as ordered and predetermined by God.

Our God is a God of pattern and order. He created the heavens, the earth and all the living things in six days, and then He rested on the seventh day. The number “7” in Hebrew numerology denotes completion. These seven Feasts of the LORD are not only the appointed times for the dress rehearsals, but also represent God’s pattern and order for the first coming of Jesus, as the Lamb of God and His second coming, as the King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 19:16). 

The first four feasts were already fulfilled in Jesus’ first coming. He first came as the savior of the world, the Passover Lamb of God, the sinless Son of man. The second feast is the Feast of Unleavened Bread. The third feast is the Feast of First fruits, and the fourth feast is the Feast of Weeks or Pentecost as we know it. The remaining three Feasts are to be fulfilled at the return of Jesus as the King of kings and Lord of lords.

We are rehearsing the return of Jesus when we participate in the last three Feasts, the Feast of Trumpets, the Feast of the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) and finally the Feast of Tabernacles where God will tabernacle with us during the millennium period.
The Feast of Tabernacles is a seven-day celebration (Leviticus 23:34). The Jewish people are commanded to dwell in booths to remind them that God “brought them out of the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 23:43). Seven again is a number of completion. Could this signify the completion of an important event in the timeline of God? Could this be the beginning when God tabernacles with man in Jerusalem during the millennium years? Only Abba Father knows, and with the passing of time we will also know.

The first day of the Feast of Tabernacles is a holy convocation, a holy rehearsal, a Sabbath day of rest (Leviticus 23:35). The Feast of Tabernacles is also the dress rehearsal where nations gather in Jerusalem to “worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles” (Zechariah 14:16b). Annually, the ICEJ organizes the Jerusalem March as a dress rehearsal for the fulfilment of Zechariah 14:16. Come to the Feast of Tabernacles to experience the joy of marching with the nations on the main streets in the heart of Jerusalem. You will have the unique opportunity to demonstrate your love for Israel and her people, as you shower them with gifts and more importantly, with your presence.

There is another holy convocation on the eighth day, only this time, it is especially mentioned as “a sacred assembly, and you shall do no customary work on it.” (Leviticus 23:36). The number “8” points to a new beginning. Could this be the dress rehearsal for the sacred creation of “a new heaven and a new earth” (Revelation 21:1) at the completion of the millennium years? Again, only time will tell.

When God said, these Feasts are “appointed times” (Leviticus 23:4b), we believe He is calling His people to assemble on these appointed times to meet with Him. These appointed times are God’s open invitations or “seasonal portals” to receive His blessings. We believe your presence in Jerusalem during the Feast of Tabernacles is positioning yourself in the right place at the right time to receive God’s blessings. 

There are special places located geographically that attract angelic presence and activities. In Genesis 28:10-19, Jacob stepped into a “certain place” and “behold, a ladder was set up on the earth, and its top reached to heaven; and there the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.” This place is called Bethel, the House of God where Jacob received his special revelation from God that his descendants shall be as the dust of the earth, and through him all the families of the earth shall be blessed. Jerusalem is another anointed place, a geographical portal where revelation from God is released.

We believe coming to Jerusalem during the Feast of Tabernacles, where seasonal and geographical portals come into alignment, will bring amazing blessings and revelation from God for your life. Come with heightened expectancy to the Feast of Tabernacles, especially in this 70th year of Israel as a reborn nation. This is your appointed time to commune with your God.

We receive amazing understanding of the Word and love for our Jewish brethren every time we come to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem. Those who came with us also experienced miracles of healings, restored relationship with Abba Father and deeper understanding of the Bible.

When you celebrate the Feast of Tabernacle in Jerusalem. You will certainly be blessed!

Food in the feast

There is nothing more Jewish and more comforting than a good Chicken Soup, so here is a one recipe (there are many variations) for traditional chicken soup

Finally, few words to summarize the Jewish holiday of Sukkot and its meaning

Sukkot – the Feast of Tabernacles

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