Harvest festival recalls Jews' exodus from Egypt

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Posted: Friday, September 27, 2013 3:26 am

UPPER JAY — “On the fifteenth day of this seventh month is the Festival of Sukkot, seven days for the L-RD,” Leviticus 23:34 reads.

Wilmington resident Robert Segall, an observant Jew, just finished celebrating the Festival of Sukkot, also called Succos, a harvest festival.

This year, Succos was observed from sunset Sept. 18 to nightfall on Sept. 25.

“The Israeli pronunciation is ‘Sukkot,’” said Segall, who attends an Orthodox synagogue in Montreal.

“Instead of an ‘s,’ there is a ‘t,’ so a lot of people pronounce it that way. It actually means ‘booths.’ It describes this as a temporary shelter,” he said.

“In the Torah, it describes the holiday. You have to have seven days. It’s in the Book of Leviticus. It describes the various holidays, starting with the Sabbath. You have six days you work, and on the seventh day you rest. On the 15th day of the seventh month is the Succos Festival for seven days. Then the eighth day is another holy convocation. It’s called Shemini Atzeres (Atzeret).”

It is written in the Torah:

“On the 15th day of the seventh month when you gather in the crop of your land, you are to celebrate God’s festival for seven days.”

“So, it’s a harvest festival,” Segall said. “On the first day, you are to take for yourself the fruit of the citron tree. It’s called an esrog (etrog), branches of the date palm, twigs of a plaited tree (myrtle) and brook willows. There’s an importance to this.”

Known as the Four Species, “Arba Minim” in Hebrew, the plants are waved when reciting specific prayers.

“The esrog is a citrus fruit,” Segall said. “It’s similar to a lemon, but obviously it’s not. It doesn’t have the same flesh as a lemon. It’s very bitter (with a) fibrous core. The symbol of the esrog, it has both taste and smell. The myrtle has smell but no taste. The palm has taste but no smell. The brook willow has neither taste nor smell. So these symbolize the four natures of human beings.

“There are qualities of us that have taste and smell, which is a sense of completeness. There are qualities that we have that have just taste but no smell, which provides some elements but not others. There are others that have smell and no taste. Then there are qualities we have that have neither taste nor smell. It’s just emptiness.

“You can say there are human beings that are full like the esrog. There are other human beings that are empty like the brook willows. Then there are other people that have this but not that or that but not this. So superficially, that’s what it symbolizes,” he said.

Jews are told to use these plants in Leviticus 23:34.

“It’s a commandment that we want to fulfill,” Segall said. “There are 613 commandments in the Torah. A person who wants to live a Torah-observant life, you don’t have to be Jewish. But an observant Jew tries to fulfill as many of these mitzvots (commandments). We have the Ten Commandments, but there are 603 other commandments, and some of them are not even relevant anymore in terms of the sacrifices and things. So a Jew who wants to be observant tries to fulfill as many commandments as possible.”

Keeping kosher is a commandment that many Jews do not observe today.

“So on this holiday, you should celebrate it as a festival to God seven days each year, Segall said.

In the Torah, it is written:

“In the seventh month, you shall celebrate it. You are to dwell in booths, succos, for seven days. Every citizen of Israel is to dwell in booths so that your generations will know that I caused the children of Israel to dwell in booths when I took them from the land of Egypt.”

“There you have it,” Segall said. “It talks about it being a harvest festival but also commemorates the exodus from Egypt, which harken back to the spring, equivalent to our April. These booths, succos, serve a function. We are to dwell in these booths to remind us of the exodus, and the whole holiday has to do with the harvest festival.”

Succos was very early this year.

“The Hebrew calendar is a lunar calendar, and it doesn’t always align with the solar calendar,” Segall said. “This year is the earliest it’s come since 1899.”

Email Robin Caudell:rcaudell@pressrepublican.com