Say to B’nei Yisrael: On the fifteenth day of this seventh month there shall be the festival of Sukkot to Hashem, [to last] seven days. Leviticus 23:34 (The Israel Bible™)
On the holiday of Sukkot, the Jewish people are commanded to “rejoice before God” (Leviticus 23:40). This merry-making is often explained as stemming from the Jewish people’s unshakeable trust in God.
When coming out of Egypt, as well as during harvests, Jews lived in sukkot (booths or tabernacles). By leaving their sturdy homes, eating and sleeping in the sukkah, the Jewish people demonstrated trust that God would continue to take care of them throughout their trials and tribulations. It is through this dependence on God that the people realized that God protects them – a realization that brings comfort and joy.
For this reason, Sukkot is considered the most joyous of festivals.
In modern times, despite sometimes experiencing challenges, it is commanded of the Jewish people to remain happy during this time of celebration. However, for those in the land of Israel who are living in poverty, as widows and orphans or homebound elderly, maintaining trust and optimism can be difficult.
That is where Colel Chabad steps in.
Colel Chabad is a government-appointed organization eliminating hunger amongst Israel’s neediest. The organization not only works to make sure that Israel’s impoverished do not spend any holiday hungry, it also works to ensure a festive environment in which one can fulfill mitzvot (commandments) of Sukkot.
During chol hamoed (the intermittent days of the holiday) in the northern city of Safed, Colel Chabad sets up special Sukkot celebrations and parties for children in their Bayit Cham “warm house” program, which is an after school program for children who are not taken care of at home. These parties include bouncy houses for the children to play in and enjoy – a special treat.
“In the Torah it says you should be happy during the holiday, so this is a way to add happiness to their lives,” said Director of Volunteering for Colel Chabad Menachem Traxler, who expressed great pride in helping children and their families add happiness to their holiday.
“During Sukkot, Jews do not eat a meal without a sukkah,” Traxler told Breaking Israel News. “Because we are serving food, it is only natural that we provide the place to eat it. We are Jewish and it’s a mitzvah.”
Thus, at most of their soup kitchen locations throughout Israel, Colel Chabad builds Sukkot to help Israel’s needy fulfill the commandment of eating underneath a sukkah – there is even one across from the Western Wall where people can enjoy a free meal.
Another one of the unique practices of the holiday of Sukkot is the ceremonial shaking of the four species: the etrog (citron), lulav (palm branch), hadas (myrtle branch) and arava (willow branch). In Leviticus 23:40, the Jewish people are commanded:
“On the first day you shall take the product of hadar trees, branches of palm trees, boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before Hashem your God seven days.”
Colel Chabad also has the four species in each sukkah so those who go for a meal can fulfill this unique Sukkot mitzvah as well.
“Every family should have the opportunity to celebrate Sukkot with a festive atmosphere,” said Traxler. “Now they have the opportunity to sit with their family in a sukkah, to enjoy a holiday meal and to celebrate.”
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