Sukkos is a seven-day holiday that is biblically mandated. This holiday starts on the 15th of Tishrei and ends on the 21st of Tishrei, a day known as Hoshanah Rabbah. The following two days of Shmini Atzeres and Simchas Torah come immediately after Sukkos, on the 22nd and 23rd of Tishrei, but are a holiday unto themselves. Note that in Israel the two days of Shmini Atzeres and Simchas Torah are combined into one day.
We read, “In a Sukkah you shall dwell for seven days…” The Torah goes on to explain that by sitting in the Sukkah we remember how G-d settled the Jews in booths (Sukkahs) when they left Egypt. Hashem enveloped the Jewish nation in a protective cloud shelter, with a cloud above to keep them shaded, a cloud below to soften the desert terrain, and clouds on each side to keep them safe.
As such, Jews the world over erect booths out of wood, hard plastic, canvas, and other materials in the days leading up to Sukkos. These booths are covered over with Schach, which is the material that covers the Sukkah, usually made from large branches, twigs, or long bamboo sticks. Throughout the seven days of Sukkos the Jewish nation eats, sleeps, studies, and spends their free time in the temporary dwelling of the Sukkah.
The Torah also commands us to take the “Four Species” on Sukkos, which are the Esrog, Lulov, Hadasim and Aravos. Holding the Esrog in the left hand and the other three species in the right hand, we make a blessing and wave them in all six directions. Some have the custom to wave the Four Species in the Sukkah.
The holiday of Sukkos includes a delightful array of mitzvos. One reason given for so many mitzvos this time of year is because we believe that we exited from the judgment days of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur victorious. Like the winner in olden times who left court with the scepter in his hand, we carry our Lulav high. We fulfill the mitzvos of Sukkos joyously and dance with the Torah in a state of delirious happiness because we are confident that Hashem stamped us in the Book of the Righteous.
And you shall rejoice on your festival – this teaches that one is required to rejoice on all Jewish Yomim Tovim. Naturally, we are forbidden to give a eulogy for the dead or to fast on a holiday, but we are even commanded to be especially happy.
Our sages teach that different activities generate feelings of happiness for different people, and we should engage in those activities on Jewish holidays. Thus, we give out sweets to children, and women wear new clothing on the holidays. Men are required to eat meat and drink wine because these things bring joy.
Yet, we are cautioned not to allow the revelry of the day to lead us to wrong places. Thus, we are commanded to feed the orphan, the widow, and other poor and underprivileged people. In fact, if one locks his door and includes only his immediate family, he is not considered to have fulfilled the Mitzvah.
Another important point is that the happiness we are commanded to attain on Jewish holidays should be one that involves serving our Creator. Thus, one who gets intoxicated, overeats, or engages in frivolous behavior is not using these days as intended by the Torah. Rather, one should channel the happiness that these days engender toward higher levels of Divine service.
While the Torah requires happiness on all holidays, Sukkos is on a level all its own. When describing the holiday of Sukkos, the Torah states “…and you will be only joyous”. Thus, we learn that on Sukkos we must be completely happy, and that it not include any form of sadness or depression.
Coming off the heels of Yom Kippur, having been cleansed from our sins, we certainly can understand the grounds for complete happiness. Furthermore, in the days of the Temple the celebrations of the Nisuch Hamayim and the Simchas Beis Hashoeva were very great indeed. The unique commandments of Sukkah and the Arbah Minim are also great opportunities. And finally, after Sukkos is over, we complete the holiday season with the happiness of Simchas Torah. Thus, it is on these days that we have the opportunity to reach levels of happiness that will remain with us for the rest of the year.
The Torah requires more Korbanos on Sukkos than any other Holiday. Another unique aspect of Sukkos is that fewer sacrifices are bought on each successive day. Thus, on the first day of the Chag thirteen cows were offered, along with many other korbanos. On the second day, they offered twelve. On the third day eleven, and so it continued until the seventh day when they brought just seven.
All together seventy cows were sacrificed on the Alter throughout Sukkos. (13+12+11+10+9+8+7=70) The Talmud teaches that these seventy cows represented the seventy nations of the world. During the time that the Temple stood, the nations of the world merited forgiveness due to these sacrifices.
While the Simchas Beis Hashoava lasted throughout the night, the Pouring of the Water took place each morning, at the time that the daily morning sacrifice was brought. Like the night before, Nisach Hamayim was accompanied with great rejoicing, as scripture states “And you shall draw water with joy”.
Amid great celebrations, water was poured out atop the alter, into one of two holes situated near a corner of the Alter. This act was part of the Temple service, but it was also a form of prayer. Our sages teach that on Sukkos the world is judged for water. Thus, the Water Offering was a plea to G-d that the coming year be filled with life giving rain waters.
Laying the Schach
The custom is to begin working on building the sukkah as soon as Yom kippur is over. The Rebbe will come into the sukkah in his home to lay some of the schach and to prepare it for the upcoming yomtov. In the Rebbe’s home the all year round dining room is converted into a sukkah which is used by the Rebbe and his family.
Tzedakah on Erev Sukkos
There is a special segulah of giving tzedakah on Erev Sukkos. In the hours before Sukkos begins hundreds and chassidim come to the Rebbe home and to pass the Rebbe and give tzedakah which will then be distributed to many needy families so that they too can have an enjoyable Yom Tov.
Davening on Sukkos
The tefillos in Belz during Sukkos have a special beauty to them. There is a feeling of joy in the air as the thousand of people come join the Rebbe for these special days. Every morning on Sukkos, before coming into shul for davening hundreds of yeshiva students and guest go into the big sukkah to make a brachah and shake one of the many sets of Lulav and Esrog which belong to the Rebbe.
The highlight of the davening on Sukkos is reciting the Hallel while holding the Lulav and Esrog. The Rebbe leads the Hallel every day with great emotion, and the huge shul is filled with joy as the thousands praise and thank Hashem.
Hakofos with Lulav and Esrog
After Hallel comes Hoshanos. The Aron Kodesh is opened and a Torah is taken to the Bimah by one of the chassidim, while the Rebbe leads the crowd in a Hafokah (circle) around the Bimah while holding the Lulav and Esrog in their hands.
The teffilos said during Hoshanos are said with great intensity as they are about asking Hashem to Help us and bless us with all we need. The Rebbe leads the tefillos and sheds many tears at this time for the salvation of Klal Yisroel, while all the others gathered also pray their own personal prayers.
On one of the days of Chal Hamoed the Rebbe goes to Har Tzofim (Mount Scopus) which overlooks the Har Habayis where the Beis Hamikdash once stood. The Rebbe recite a special tefillah and the many gathered sing together about our waiting for the Geula and the Rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash.
The Big Sukkah
In the courtyard of the Shul stands the huge Sukkah where the Rebbe leads the Tishen every night of Sukkos. The roof of the Sukkah is beautifully decorated with huge chandeliers of fruits, wine and oil. The Sukkah also has sophisticated air conditioning, lighting and speaker systems.
Lighting the Candles
Before the Tish begins the Rebbe lights Seven candles on a menorah in honor of the Ushpizin, the seven special guests that join us during Sukos. During the Tish the Rebbe’s gabbai will call out the names of those present who have the same name as the Ushpzin of that night.
During the Tish niggunim (songs) of Simcha (happiness) are sung and the Rebbe says Torah which is usually about the Ushpizin of that night. The customary Yom Tov foods are brought out to the Rebbe, who will the proceed to give it out to those present.
The Yosef Tish
The sixth night of Sukkos is the Ushpizin of Yosef. In chassidus and kabbalah this day is a great segulah for Shefa (prosperity). The minhag in Belz is that the Rebbe gives out Dark Bread (whole wheat) to the chassidim and blesses them with a year of great success.
On Sukkos there is a mitzvah of “Vesomachto Bechagecha” to rejoice and be happy. Each night after the Tish the Rebbe and the crowd gathered dance before leaving the Sukkah. The Tish usually end in the late hours of the night, but it leaves everyone uplifted and inspired.
Rabbi Michel of Zlotchov, also known as the Maggid of Zlotchov owned a precious pair of tfillin that he inherited from his saintly and holy father, Rabbi Yitzchak of Drohovitch. The pair of tfillin was more precious to him than anything, and he refused to sell it, despite its fantastic worth. Wealthy Chasidim offered the Maggid fifty rynesh – a fantastic sum of money – but he refused to hear about it. This was even though he was extremely poor and his wife pressured him greatly. Despite everything, the Maggid remained steadfast. He would never sell his father’s pair of tfillin.
One year, Sukkos drew near but there was no esrog to be found in the city of Zlotchov. People waited for esrogim to arrive from different places, but none came. Finally, a man arrived in town the day before Sukkos with a beautiful esrog, but he demanded fifty rynesh for the esrog. The man knew what it was worth and he wouldn’t charge any less.
Rabbi Michel of Zlotchov considered the matter and decided to sell the precious pair of tfillin as it was worth the exact same amount of money that the esrog cost. As soon as he had the money, the Maggid purchased the beautiful esrog, and the city of Zlotchov was finally possessed a complete set of Arba Minim.
When the Maggid’s wife found out that he had purchased the esrog, she demanded to know from where he had gotten hold of so much money. The Maggid refused to answer her, but she became very insistent. Finally, Rabbi Michel of Zlotchov informed his wife that he had sold his father’s pair of tfillin to purchase the esrog.
When the Maggid’s wife heard this, she became furious. She yelled at her husband saying that she had begged him many times to sell the tfillin to put food on the table, something he wouldn’t do, but now he sold it for an esrog! In a fit of rage, she grabbed the esrog off the table and sunk her teeth into the pitum and spit it out on the ground. Now the expensive esrog was worthless.
Rabbi Michel of Zlotchov watched what happened in shock but he did not say a word. He maintained complete control and exclaimed: “If the Master of the World wanted my esrog to be pasul, I accept it with love!”
Later, Rabbi Yitzchak of Drohovitch, the Maggid’s father, appeared to him in a dream and said that in heaven the self-control that he maintained when his wife destroyed his Esrog created a bigger impact than when he spent a fortune on its purchase.