What’s in a Name? (Sukkot)
A ROSE BY ANY OTHER NAME
Like many young people, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet meet at a party and they hit it off. All is going well, until they learn each other's names and realize they can not be together due to a long-lasting family feud.
1. If you change the name of something, would everything else about it stay the same?
2. What do you think Judaism would say about this?
Judaism begs to differ with Shakespeare! Changing the name of someone or something would change the intrinsic nature of who or what they are. Often people, things, and even holidays have multiple names, as each name is key to understanding the essence of that person, holiday, etc.
The holiday of Sukkot actually has four names, each shedding light on another aspect of its “personality.”
It’s ironic that we open with the importance of names, before acknowledging that Sukkot is also referred to as the generic-sounding “The Holiday” or the “Festival of the L-ord.”
אַךְ בַּחֲמִשָּׁה עָשָׂר יוֹם לַחֹדֶשׁ הַשְּׁבִיעִי בְּאָסְפְּכֶם אֶת־תְּבוּאַת הָאָרֶץ תָּחֹגּוּ אֶת־חַג־ה’ שִׁבְעַת יָמִים בַּיּוֹם הָרִאשׁוֹן שַׁבָּתוֹן וּבַיּוֹם הַשְּׁמִינִי שַׁבָּתוֹן׃
“Mark, on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the yield of your land, you shall observe the festival of the L-rd [to last] seven days: a complete rest on the first day, and a complete rest on the eighth day.” (Vayikra 23:39)
Perhaps this quote means the holiday falling on the 15th of the seventh month is lacking in identity, or perhaps this is THE Holiday and needs no further introduction? Either way, it was clearly seen as an important time, as that was the opportunity chosen by King Solomon to dedicate the Temple:
אָז יַקְהֵל שְׁלֹמֹה אֶת־זִקְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל … אֶל־הַמֶּלֶךְ שְׁלֹמֹה יְרוּשָׁלִָם לְהַעֲלוֹת אֶת־אֲרוֹן בְּרִית־ה' מֵעִיר דָּוִד הִיא צִיּוֹן׃ וַיִּקָּהֲלוּ אֶל־הַמֶּלֶךְ שְׁלֹמֹה כָּל־אִישׁ יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּיֶרַח הָאֵתָנִים בֶּחָג הוּא הַחֹדֶשׁ הַשְּׁבִיעִי׃
Then Solomon convened the elders of Israel…before King Solomon in Jerusalem, to bring up the Ark of the Covenant of the L-rd from the City of David, that is, Zion. All the men of Israel gathered before King Solomon at The Holiday, on the month of Etanim – that is the seventh month. (Kings 1, 8:1-2)
In referencing Jerusalem and the Temple, it is worth mentioning that Sukkot is one of the Shalosh Regalim (שלוש רגלים, “Three Pilgrimage Festivals”), where Jews would come up to Jerusalem and bring a sacrifice to the Temple. (For more on Temple times see What, How and Why do we Remember)
The most well-known name for the holiday is Sukkot, or “booths:”
דַּבֵּר אֶל־בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לֵאמֹר בַּחֲמִשָּׁה עָשָׂר יוֹם לַחֹדֶשׁ הַשְּׁבִיעִי הַזֶּה חַג הַסֻּכּוֹת שִׁבְעַת יָמִים לַה'׃
Speak to the Children of Israel saying, on the fifteenth of this seventh month shall be a festival of booths (Sukkot) to the L-rd, for seven days. (Vayikra 23:34)
We are told that the holiday of Sukkot falls on the 15th of the seventh month, which is Tishrei. It is interesting to note that while we consider Rosh Hashanah the start of the new Jewish year, the Torah counts the months starting with Nissan, thus Tishrei would be the seventh month.
What is the significance of sitting or even living in a sukkah? In the same way that our ancestors dwelled in temporary booths or sukkot after the Exodus from Egypt, we do the same to connect to the chain of tradition:
בַּסֻּכֹּת תֵּשְׁבוּ שִׁבְעַת יָמִים כָּל־הָאֶזְרָח בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל יֵשְׁבוּ בַּסֻּכֹּת׃ לְמַעַן יֵדְעוּ דֹרֹתֵיכֶם כִּי בַסֻּכּוֹת הוֹשַׁבְתִּי אֶת־בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּהוֹצִיאִי אוֹתָם מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם אֲנִי ה' אֱלֹקיכֶם׃
For seven days you shall live in booths (Sukkot); all citizens of Israel shall live in booths, in order that future generations may know that I made the Children of Israel live in booths when I brought them out of the Land of Egypt, I am the L-rd your G-d. (Vayikra 23: 42-43)
Sukkot is also the time we start to pray for rain. It is an opportunity to consider the natural environment by being more immersed in it, as well as traditionally showing faith in G-d by leaving ourselves more open to the elements. Another environmental element of the chag is the holding and waving of the Arbat Haminim [ארבעת המינים, “Four Species” – lulav, etrog, hadassim (myrtle leaves), and aravot (willow leaves)]. In addition, the name Sukkot is also a reminder of the value of hospitality, as we traditionally invite in the Ushpizin (“guests” in Aramaic)—different Biblical leaders on each night of Sukkot.
Another name for the holiday of Sukkot is Chag HaAsif, or the Holiday of Ingathering.
חַג הַסֻּכֹּת תַּעֲשֶׂה לְךָ שִׁבְעַת יָמִים בְּאָסְפְּךָ מִגָּרְנְךָ וּמִיִּקְבֶךָ׃…שִׁבְעַת יָמִים תָּחֹג לַיהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ בַּמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר־יִבְחַר יְהוָה כִּי יְבָרֶכְךָ יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ בְּכֹל תְּבוּאָתְךָ וּבְכֹל מַעֲשֵׂה יָדֶיךָ וְהָיִיתָ אַךְ שָׂמֵחַ׃
“After the ingathering from your threshing floor and your vat, you shall hold the Holiday of Booths for seven days…You shall hold a festival for the L-rd your G-d for seven days, in the place that the L-rd will choose; for the L-rd your G-d will bless all your crops and your undertakings and you shall have nothing but joy.” (Devarim 16:13,15)
Many biblical holidays were largely connected to agriculture. Specific points of the year were designated for planting, reaping, and harvesting. In fact the verse, “A season is set for everything, a time for every experience under the heavens” comes from Megillat Kohellet (מגילת קהלת, “The Scroll of Ecclesiates”), which is read on this holiday. Chag HaAsif comes at the end of the harvest process.
According to this name, the holiday is a time for joy and rejoicing. One element of why this time specifically is set to be a happy occasion is due to when it falls. The Yamim Nora’im (ימים נוראים, “Days of Awe”)—aka Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur—are a time for serious self-reflection. Coming out of these days, we can now rejoice in the new opportunities that the New Year may provide. This is also an opportunity to consider, what/who/where makes you happy? How can we look out for others and ensure we are all happy?
1. Which of these names for Sukkot do you most use and why?
2. Which of these names do you most relate to in terms of what this holiday is for you?
Divide into smaller groups and give each group one name of the holiday with supporting information. After discussing the text and explanation, each group prepares a short play or skit about why the holiday was given the name they received.
As a large group or in chevrutot (paired learning), study the different names of the holiday. Choose any of the names and create a poster using illustrations and words to express the nature of the holiday through their chosen name. Posters can then be displayed to show an overarching idea of what the holiday means to different people.
1. What is the difference between these three types of names?
2. What are your names for each of these three categories?
3. Which of these three names do you think is the most important and why?