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First Day Sukkot

Baruch Levine z”l, in his commentary on VaYikra, characterized the reading for the First Day of Sukkot as a “calendar of the annual festivals, celebrated in ancient times”, including Shabbat, the Matzot festival and the offering of the pascal lamb, the Omer offering, the day of blasting the Shofar, the Day of Atonement and Sukkot. With the exception of Sukkot, Yom HaKippurim and Shabbat, none of the other festivals are known by the names that have come down to us since rabbinic times. Nonetheless, these ancient biblical festivals are the antecedents of all of contemporary Jewish holidays.

Much emphasis in the reading is placed on Sukkot. We learn that unlike the Matzot Festival which lasted only seven days, Sukkot lasts for eight days. While the Torah at first focuses on the requirement to bring sacrifices throughout the eight days of Sukkot, the Torah does not prescribe which types of sacrifices must be brought. Instead, the Torah introduces us to the two rituals which we continue to observe until this very day, namely the obligation to live in Booths for the first seven days of the festival and secondly, the obligation to gather four distinct species of vegetation, which even before the rabbinic era were identified as the four species that make up the Lulav and Etrog. Two of the species, the palm frond and the willow leaves, are easily identifiable. The other two species, the boughs of leafy trees and the fruit of the Hadar tree were more ambiguous, but rabbinic tradition settled on twigs of the myrtle tree and the fruit of the citron tree, the Etrog. Levine suggests that the emphasis on leafy trees and trees that grow near the water was meant to symbolize the abundance of water in the river beds of the land of Israel and the beauty of the land of Israel in general. The Torah reading also adds an historical dimension to the obligation to dwell in booths during Sukkot by saying that this serves as a reminder to future generations that God provided the Israelites with protective booths in which to live after God brought the people out of Egypt.


Rabbi Lionel Moses


Sat, 30 September 2023 15 Tishrei 5784