“And that they must announce and proclaim throughout all their towns and Yerushalayim as follows, ‘Go out to the mountains and bring leafy branches of olive trees, pine trees, myrtles, palms and [other] leafy trees to make booths, as it is written.’” NEHEMIAH 8:15 (The Israel Bible™)
Any species of tree may be used to construct the sukkah, the booth used to observe the holiday of Sukkot. For this particular Sukkot, though, the people specifically looked for olive branches. Besides being one of the seven special agricultural species of the Land of Israel (Deuteronomy 8:8), the olive also plays a significant role in the story of Noach’s flood. After the rain stopped falling, Noach sent out a dove to see if the flood waters had receded. When the dove returned with a freshly plucked olive leaf, “Noach knew that the waters had decreased on the earth” (Genesis 8:11). Additionally, the menorah ‘lamp’ in the Beit Hamikdash is kindled daily exclusively with olive oil, and this oil is also used ceremoniously to anoint a new king. The common theme of these events is renewal. After the flood, the world was given a new start. Each time the menorah is lit, it is kindled anew, without any reliance on previous lightings, and the coronation of a new monarch also begins a new era for the kingdom. This symbolism was certainly not lost on the people in Nechemya’s time, who were renewing their traditions in the God-given land of their forefathers.