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Sukkot is like a cozy hug, coming just five days after the deep soul work of Yom Kippur. We journey into our backyards or into a pillow fort to remind ourselves of our vulnerability and focus on gratitude. By dwelling in uncertainty, we move from the High Holidays into the rest of the year joyful, reconnected to nature and ready for what comes next.
Use this booklet, with its mix of traditional and reimagined rituals, to guide you through the week of Sukkot. Come back any time during the year when you need to renew, refresh and reawaken.
Erev Sukkot by Julia Knobloch
The moon stood high over Yaffa Road.
Why take a photo, my companion asked,
behold the moment and enjoy the night.
Shabbat was over.
An old chazzan greeted us from the doorway
of a small shul near the shuk. For a while,
he joined our walk into the quiet new week,
singing of gold, copper, myrrh and roses.
Dates and jasmine filled the air
after bare and sour pilgrimage.
My olive harvest was destroyed.
I didn’t know if I had the strength to plough
new fields and seek uncertain gain.
On Erev Sukkot in Nachla’ot there was time
for one more pomegranate juice,
for salvation, a few hours.
At dawn I drove down silent hills,
I beheld the parting moon leading me into the morning—
Stranger in exile, she said, I will come back and so will you.
From the collection Do Not Return, published in 2019 by Broadstone Books
Baruch ata Adonai, Eloheinu melech haolam,borei p’ri hagafen.
We bless You, Eternal God, Sovereign of the universe, Creator of the fruit of the vine.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם
הַמּֽוֹצִיא לֶֽחֶם מִן הָאָֽרֶץ
Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha’olam, hamotzi lekhem min ha-aretz.
Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Ruler of the universe, Who brings forth bread from the earth.
Each year, the first time we eat a fruit that only grows at a certain time of year, or when we do something for the first time in a while, we say a special blessing, the shehecheyanu, on this new experience.
בָּרוּך אַתָּה יי אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶך הָעוֹלָם שֶׁהֶחֱיָנוּ וקְִיְמָּנוּ והְִגִיּעָנוּ לַזְמַן הַזֶה
Barukh ata adonai elohenu melekh ha-olam, she-hechiyanu, v’kiy'manu, v’higi'anu la-z’man ha-zeh
Blessed are You, the One who has kept us alive and sustained us so that we could reach this moment.
It is a mitzvah, a commandment to celebrate in the sukkah, including eating our meals there. We have several opportunities to bless this moment and make it special.
Blessing for sitting in the sukkah
When eating or reciting kiddush in the sukkah, recite this blessing:
Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam, asher kid'shanu b'mitzvotav v'tzivanu leisheiv basukkah.
Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of all: who hallows us with mitzvot, commanding us to dwell in the sukkah.
Blessings for the Lulav and Etrog
The lulav is a combination of date palm, willow and myrtle branches, held together by a woven palm branch. The etrog, or citron, is a lemon-like fruit with a wonderful citrus smell. When reciting the blessing over the lulav and etrog, shake them in six directions—north, south, east, west, up, and down. This action symbolizes that the Divine Presence can be found in all directions, not just in one particular place.
Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam, asher kid'shanu b'mitzvotav v'tzivanu al n'tilat lulav.
Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of all, who hallows us with mitzvot, commanding us to take up the lulav.
Shehechiyanu (blessing said when doing something for the first time)
And if it’s the first time you’re waving a lulav or sitting in the sukkah this year, you can recite a shehechiyanu marking this as a special occasion:
Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam, shehechehyanu, v'kiy'manu, v'higianu laz'man hazeh.
Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of all who, has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this season.
Source: Reform Judaism
And G!d says: “After you are all wrung out from that amends making and accountability-having, go out into your backyard and build yourself a fort. And be sure to invite all your friends to join you in your backyard fort for food and merriment because that is how you make the community continue after all that hard work."
And G!d says: “And make your fort enclosed enough to feel cozy, but keep one side open, so that all who pass by know that they are welcome. Even the roof must be thin enough to invite the evening sky to dine with you, the openings in the branches that cover you wide enough for stars to fall through. There are too many among us who are made unwelcome - not just in the inhospitable corners of the world, but in our own towns, our own neighborhoods, on our own blocks. You may even know their names. Invite them.”
Ritual for Sukkot
Find one person with whom you made repairs over the ten days. Invite them to your fort, if you made one - to your house, if you didn’t. Prepare a meal for them, with your own hands, in whatever form that takes - digging the potatoes yourself, or opening the box. Serve your guest. Offer them the best you have. Say: welcome. Say: thank you. Say: this is only the beginning. Celebrate the work of connection and repair.
And G!d says: But nothing holds forever. The branches over your head will wither; grass under your feet will die of thirst and cold; you will unbolt these frames and fold the canvas walls. Even the bedrock beneath you holds molten memories of liquidity. Bottle the warmth of these cooling nights, of friends around the table, of candlelight, of wine, woodsmoke and holy tunes. You will need to drink from it soon enough.
From Dane Kuttler's The G!d Wrestlers, The Social Justice Warrior's Guide to the High Holy Days, Sept. 2015
As you decorate your sacred dwelling place for the week of Sukkot, say this blessing:
Blessed are You, Holy Lover of Beauty, who finds joy in the thoughtful design of our earthly acts
In the 16th Century, Jewish mystics created the ritual of ushpizin (Aramaic for honored guests), inviting seven different Biblical figures into the sukkah during the holiday. The traditional list includes Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron and David. Modern feminists have added Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, Leah, Miriam, Avigail and Esther.
Think of seven people - historical, fictional, ancestral, or virtual (those you wish you could celebrate with this year). For each night of Sukkot, spend a few moments thinking about one of those people, imagining what you’d want to talk about and how their presence would make you feel. You can also use the nights of Sukkot to host a video chat in your sukkah, welcoming friends and family to bring their fullest selves.
Blessing for welcoming ancestral, fictional, historical, Biblical, familial or virtual ushpizin into your sukkah:
Blessed are you, Divine Gatherer, whose presence grows through abundant welcome.
More than half the world’s population lives in an urban environment, but everyone—even city dwellers—can use Sukkot as a time to reconnect with nature.
Here are some ways to unplug from the digital and to immerse yourself in the present moment.
1. Take a long walk in a park, forest or nature preserve. As you walk, use all your senses to notice the different trees, cacti or plants. Thank them for providing shade, for cleaning our air and giving animals a place to live.
2. Visit a farm or farmer’s market and incorporate whatever produce is fresh that week into your meals.
3. If you can see nature from your window, focus on one tree or plant and look at it each day. If you have plants in your home, focus on one stem or leaf. Examine how the colors and patterns change over time, how the seasons affect it, whether animals or birds visit, how it continues to grow.
4. Decorate your home with signs of the season. Dried flowers leftover from your altar, leaves collected in the park, apples picked from a local farm. Maybe you have a lulav and etrog - the traditional flora of Sukkot. Look at these throughout Sukkot and pause for a moment of gratitude because we are all part of nature.
Art from Seeker Season: 2020 Guide for the Curious and Courageous by Jessica Tamar Deutsch
Blessing for seeing large-scale wonders of nature such as high mountains, vast deserts, seas, major rivers, shooting stars and the sunrise:
Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech haolam, oseh maasei v'reishit.
We praise You, Eternal God, Sovereign of the universe, who makes the works of creation.
Blessing for seeing smaller wonders of nature such as beautiful trees, flowers and animals:
Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech haolam, shekacha lo be’olamo.
We praise You, Eternal God, Sovereign of the universe, who has such beauty in Your world.
Wandering has been part of Jewish history since Biblical times. Early in the Torah, we read Lech Lecha, a portion all about Abraham leaving his father’s house. During Sukkot, we physically remember our 40 years of wandering in the desert between Egypt and Israel. Today, many Jews live in communities far from where their ancestors dwelled. Our relationship to land has often been temporary, subject to the whims of others.
As we have wandered, we have arrived on lands once, or still home, to indigenous people. Sukkot, a holiday closely tied to agriculture, land and thanksgiving, is an opportunity to learn about, honor and recognize those who first inhabited these places.
Dedicate one night of Sukkot to researching native peoples who lived in your community, acknowledging their existence and honoring their contributions. What were the names of their tribes? What happened to them historically? Who are the current leaders of that indigenous community? Seek out books, podcasts, artwork or stories by and about indigenous people.
Ready to bring this to your Sukkot celebration? Start by going to Native Land (www.native-land.ca) to learn the names of the tribes who have lived in your community. Then visit #HonorNativeLand (https://usdac.us/nativeland) to download a land acknowledgement guide and print colorful posters designed by native artists to hang in your sukkah.
From Seeker Season Guidebook for the Curious & Courageous https://highholidaysathome.com/haggadah/seeker-season
Our ancient ancestors were desert dwellers who understood the importance of water. Without the seasonal rains, people faced thirst, famine and disease. Sukkot brings the start of the rainy season, and so a boisterous, elaborate ritual of drawing water evolved. Gigantic menorahs would be lit, and as shofars blasted and the people danced, Temple priests would fill one golden flask with water and another with wine, which they poured over the altar.
In case you don’t happen to have these items at home, here are some other ways to celebrate and show your gratitude for water.
1. Write a poem or journal about all the ways water has been a part of your life. From drinking our eight glasses a day, to playing in puddles to growing our food, we’re all here because of water.
2. Fill your fanciest glass with water to the brim and pour it over your hands. Or, place your hands in a lake or stream. Focus on how the water feels on your skin. Think about the power of washing our hands, especially in these times. Take a moment of gratitude for having access to water.
3. Learn about places where access to clean water has been compromised, because of governmental neglect, climate change or racial inequities. Flint, Michigan; Newark, New Jersey; the Navajo Nation; Chennai, India and Rome, Italy have all experienced recent water crises. Take action to protect water resources by connecting to water justice movements in your community.
4. Make a playlist of songs about rain (there’s lots of them!) or listen to ours: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/4kTn1sDKYLojXufoexDvug
5. Dance around your living room and make your stomping a prayer for rain to nourish plants, snow to cap mountains and water for all living things.
Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech haolam, she’asah et ha’yam ha’gadol.
We praise You, Eternal God, Sovereign of the universe who made the great sea.