Sukkot Resource Sheet for Teachers
What: Sukkot is a seven day Jewish holiday. It is one of the three major holidays in Judaism called Shalosh Regalim (lit. Three on Foot), when Israelites would pilgrimage to Jerusalem for festivities and worship. Sukkot has three names:
Sukkot – סוכות – Feast of Tabernacles or Festival of Booths
Hag Ha-Asif – חג האסיף – Festival of The Gathering
Zman Simchateinu – זמן שמחתינו – Time for Celebration
Immediately following Sukkot are two other holidays called Shemini Atzeret (lit. The Eighth [day] of Assembly) and Simhat Torah (lit. Joy of Torah). Although they are separate holidays, they are generally regarded as part of Sukkot.
Where: The main textual reference for Sukkot is Vayikra 23:33-44, although there are many other references to it in both Tanakh and other Jewish texts.
When: Sukkot begins on the fifteenth of the month of Tishrei, five days after Yom Kippur. It falls in September or October.
Why: Each name of Sukkot corresponds to a different reason for celebration, historical, agricultural, and theological:
Historically, Sukkot commemorates the forty years in which the Israelites wandered around the dessert. They had left slavery in Egypt, but had not yet entered the Land of Israel, and therefore did not have a permanent dwelling place. To commemorate this time we build temporary huts, similar to the ones our ancestors lived in during their wanderings.
Sukkot was celebrated immediately after the gathering of the harvest. It was a festival to thank God for the bounty of nature.
During the high holidays, our slates are wiped clean by God. Immediately following this period, we are commanded to be joyous in celebration of this dependence on God.We move into flimsy sukkot, which teaches us that nothing in life is permanent, so the key is living life properly.
How: Some of the traditions of sukkot include:
Sukkah: On sukkot, we are instructed to live in a sukkah, a temporary shelter similar to the ones our ancestors lived in during their sojourn in the desert. Living within a sukkah has been understood to mean eating meals there, although there are some people who sleep inside, depending on their health and the weather. A sukkah can be any size, as long as people can fit inside. A sukkah is required to have at least two and a half walls that will not blow away in the wind—these are usually made of canvas or wood. The “roof” should be made of sekhakh (lit. cover), something that grew from the ground and was cut off (e.g. palm branches, bamboo reads, wooden slats), but visitors in the sukkah should still be able to see the stars and feel rain if it falls. It is a tradition to decorate the sukkah. Generally, it is decorated with homemade garlands, posters, and pictures.
Arba Minim: On sukkot, we are instructed to bless the arba minim (lit. four species) in the sukkah every day of sukkot, except for Shabbat. The four species are 1) Etrog – citrus fruit 2) Lulav – palm branch 3) Aravot – willow branches and 4) Hadassim -myrtle branches. The arba minim are also held and waved during sukkot prayers.
Ushpizin: On Sukkot, it is is customary to perform the mitzvah of hakhnasat orekhim, hospitality, by inviting friends and family over for festive meals in the sukkah. One key tradition is the ushpizin (lit. guests), a mystical prayer in which symbolic guests are invited to leave heaven and grace us with their presence in our sukkah. Each of these guests had been exiled and so they remind us that we were once a wandering people. Traditionally the symbolic guests invited were the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph and King David), but some add the matriarchs/prophetesses as well (Sarah, Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, Abigail, Huldah, Esther).
Special prayers: On Sukkot, mussaf and Hallel are said daily as well as additions to the the Amidah prayer and Birkat HaMazon. There are also blessings said on the arba minim and for dwelling in the sukkah.
|Sukkot||Festival of Booths||סוכות|
|Hag Ha-Asif||Festival of the Gathering||חג האסיף|
|Zman Simhateinu||Time of Celebration||זמן שמחתינו|
|Shemini Atzeret||The Eighth [Day] of Assembly||שמיני עצרת|
|Simhat Torah||The Joy of Torah||שמחת תורה|
|arba minim||four species||ארבע מינים|
|hakhnasat orekhim||hospitality||הכנסת אורחים|
Sukkot Educational Themes:
- Appreciation of our homes and the environment
- Permanence versus transience
- Rootedness versus wandering
Sukkot Educational Activities:
- Model Sukkot #1: Build model sukkot with recycable materials – use shoe boxes, tree branches, egg cartons, old computer parts, etc. In America, many sukkot are made of wood, where in Israel they are more likely made of canvas or sheets. What would a sukkah look like in a different country? A historical or futuristic sukkah?
- Model Sukkot #2: Design model sukkot using graphics software, like Google Sketchup.
- Build a sukkah #1: Build a full-scale sukkah in your school and invite the neighborhood to join in a festive meal.
- Build a sukkah #2: Volunteer to help community members/organizations build their sukkot.
- Decorate a sukkah #1: Create Sukkah decorations using recycable materials – use soda bottles, newspapers, cereal boxes, etc.
- Decorate a sukkah #2: Decorate a sukkah with harvest foods like pumpkins, gourds and cranberry/popcorn chains.
- Decorate a classroom: No school sukkah? Give your classroom a sukkah feeling with fall decorations and colors.
- Arba Minim #1: Bring in a lulav and etrog to class. Explain the laws that pertain to them and demonstrate how we wave and bless them. Give the students a chance to shake and bless them as well.
- Arba Minim #2: Students choreograph a lulav dance and perform it for the school.
- Ushpizin #1: Read stories about the Biblical patriarchs and matriarchs of the ushpizin. What special qualities did they have? Why were these individuals chosen for the ushpizin?
- Ushpizin #2: Students write and put on an original play about the members of the ushpizin. There are potentially 14 parts, not including narration and extras.
- Ushpizin #3: Students study the original ushpizin prayer and write a personal ushpizin prayer for an individual who they would like to invite to their sukkah.
- Ushpizin #4: Write the names of the ushpizin guests on paper, fold them and put them in a hat. Students pick one paper, mime the life/personality of the guest – other students have to guess the identity.
- Sukkot study #1: Learn why we sit in the sukkah (lesson plan for high school).
- Sukkot study #2: Learn about the relationship between Sukkot and Thanksgiving. Compare and contrast or hold a debate.
- Sukkot study #3: If you have school on Sukkot, hold your regularly scheduled classes inside.
- Sukkot study #4: Learn the symbolism of the arba minim (unit for elementary school).
- Sukkot study #5: Visit/volunteer on a local farm to learn about the harvest.
- Sukkot study #6: Learn about the relationship between Israel and rain (lesson plan for high school).
- Sukkot study #7: Select a nomadic people for a study unit. How does their nomadic culture influence their way of life?
- Sukkot study #8: Study hospitality in different cultures today and compare it to hospitality as practiced in Tanakh.
- Hospitality #1: Practice hakhanasat orkhim by hosting needy people in your school’s/synagogues sukkah.
- Hospitality #2: Invite parents, other students, community members into your sukkah for a meal made out of harvest foods.
- Hospitality #3: Organize a “sukkah hop”, where students visit other student’s sukkot. Hosts can serve light refreshments and students can thank them by singing sukkot songs (link includes lyrics and audio).
- Technology #1: Students create an ad campaign for Sukkot using multimedia – video, audio, etc.
- Technology #2: Set up a wireless connection in the school sukkah. Set up a Skype call with another school, out of state or out of the country, and have a virtual sukkah party.
- Sukkot Charades: Play charades with your class – act out building a sukkah, wandering in the desert, shaking the arba minim in synagogue, etc.
- Sukkot Dramatization: Sukkot was the first place the Israelites traveled to Sukkot immediately after Egypt (see Shemot 12:37) before crossing the Red Sea. They also lived in Sukkot for forty years of their wanderings (see Vayikra 23:33-44). They then crossed over into Israel. Decorate one classroom to look like Egypt, another to look like the desert and another to look like Israel. Dramatize the events – what were the Israelites feeling when they arrived in Sukkot after the last plague? What were they feeling for those forty years of wandering?
- Sukkot Sleepover: What did it feel like to sleep in a sukkah in the desert? Organize a sleepover in your school sukkah to give students a real sukkot experience.
- Sukkot and Homelessness: On Sukkot, we leave our homes and live in temporary huts, where we are exposed to the elements. Use this as a way to raise awareness about homelessness/inadequate housing. – Dara Goldschmidt
Thanks for your submissions! Submit your Sukkot activity here.