The third pilgrimage feast is Succoth, a seven-day festival, also known as the feast of Booths, the Feast of Tabernacles, or just Tabernacles. The word Succoth is the plural of the Hebrew word succah, meaning booth or hut. Until the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 AD, Jews made their way to Jerusalem to celebrate each of the three pilgrimage feasts. “Three times in the year shall all thy males appear before the Lord God, the God of Israel. For I will cast out nations before thee, and enlarge thy borders; neither shall any man covet thy land, when thou goest up to appear before the Lord thy God three times in the year” (Exodus 34:23–24). “And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations that came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles” (Zechariah 14:16).
During this holiday, Jews eat their meals, entertain guests, relax, and even sleep in a succah, a temporary structure. The succah is reminiscent of the type of huts in which the ancient Israelites dwelt during their 40 years of wandering in the desert after the Exodus from Egypt. This holiday marks and celebrates the ingathering of grain and fruit harvests.
Etrog, Lulav and the Four Species
While the Succah hut gives the Succoth holiday its name, this festival has two other main symbols: the lulav and etrog.
The mitzvah (commandment) to take a lulav and etrog together on Succoth comes from the Torah:
“and you shall take of yourselves on the first day (of Succoth) the fruit of a goodly tree, a palm branch, the myrtle branch, and the willow of the brook; and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days” (Leviticus 23:40).
Of the many symbols associated with Succoth the most important are the Four Species. The Four Species are:
– A lulav is a slender palm branch that is held together with myrtle
(the hadas) branches and willow (the aravah) branches.
– The etrog is a curious fruit. It isn’t quite a lemon, because it is
bumpy rather than smooth. Unlike the lemon, the etrog has a
little tip that we call the pitma. The etrog is used only once a year
on Succoth for one week. The branches and fruit are waved
each day Succoth, except on Shabbat, in a specific manner
for a variety of reasons.
After the destruction of the Temple, the actual pilgrimage is no longer obligatory upon Jews and does not take place.