The custom of dwelling in booths at Sukkot carries a reminder of the time of wandering in the desert after the exodus, when only temporary shelter was available. For us, the symbolism of the booth, or the sukkah, is the wish to spread a canopy of peace over the world and enfold us as a warm, caring community. We typically observe this holiday on the Community Sunday closest to the holiday.
Part of the High Holidays, Sukkot marks both the successful result of the previous agricultural year and a clean start of the new one. As with the other agricultural holidays, Sukkot has both a historical and metaphorical significance for contemporary Jews.
The holiday its own vocabulary, all relating to the harvest.
- Sukkah – hut with no roof and easily assembled walls to shelter from wind and dust; good in desert.
- Tabernacle – temporary enclosure; also a hut for religious use.
- Festival of Booths — a booth is a hut is a tabernacle is a rough desert shelter in the fields.
- The Ingathering — a term for harvest
Relevant biblical references include Deuteronomy 16:13 (on the Ingathering of summer crops and fruits, the close of the agricultural year) and Exodus 34:22, which sets Sukkot at either the autumnal equinox or the full moon time in the appropriate month.
Humanistic Jews find human significance in the original Sukkot celebration:
- Agriculture was the first step toward human mastery of the environment.
- As farms grew into settlements, which became towns and cities, human ingenuity and courage propelled civilization toward the secular age and even greater human achievements.
- Tribute to human achievement – agricultural, industrial, technological, and cultural.
- Recognizing the interconnectedness of humanity.
- Acknowledging our responsibility to the environment.
- Building and taking down the sukkah remind us of the transitory nature of human existence and experience.
- The covering of the sukkah is organic, suggesting our dependence upon nature, as well as our mastery of it.
- Recognizing that the fullness and beauty of the harvest may focus our attention on the abundance of beauty in the world.