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Sukkot According to Kabbalah
Sukkot is one of the three biblical pilgrimage festivals. It is celebrated on the 15th of the month of Tishrei and lasts for seven days. The biblical verses mention that this festival is being celebrated in memory of the Exodus and the tabernacles (sheds – Sukkot) that the Israelites lived in during their 40 year’s journey through the desert. However, if the festival is in memory of the Exodus which was in the spring, why do we celebrate Sukkot in the fall? Well, in order to unveil the true mystical meaning of Sukkot we should first understand the general structure of the month of Tishrei.
The wisdom of Kabbalah teaches that Tishrei’s holidays are actually one holiday that starts with Rosh HaShana and ends with Simhat Torah (The 22nd of Tishrei), The holiday’s purpose is the rebuilding of the “vessel” (our soul) in order to give us a chance for renewal. It is a complex process divided into several stages:
Ten Days of Penitence – Days of Judgment
This first stage lasts for 10 days, from Rosh HaShana until Yom Kippur and it is about building our desire to receive – our left column. This stage connects us to the creation of the world, hence to our re-creation for the year to come. During this stage we purify our desires from all the negativities that have been attached to them in the past, thus preventing us from fulfilling our true desires. The forgiveness, repentance, self examination, prayers and the sounds of the Shofar, are tools meant to achieve spiritual purification and cleansing; preparing ourselves to receive abundance for the year to come. During these days it is determined who will live and who will die, who will be rich and who will be poor during the coming year.
Sukkot – Days of Grace (Hesed)
According to the Ari, as Yom Kippur ends The Light of Hesed (grace) – The Energy of Life enters our soul. This light comes in direct correlation with our spiritual work during Elul and The Ten Days of Penitence. The amount of this light determines our level of satisfaction, our sense of achievement, our financial state, our health and our power of life for the year to come. This light is called Inner Light.
The wisdom of Kabbalah explains that each one of us has two kinds of Light:
The Inner Light (Or Penimi) is the light we already have within (the vessel) and it symbolizes everything we managed to correct (Tikkun) in our soul that became a part of us. This light enters gradually in five stages between the 11th and the 15th of Tishrei. This Inner Light is everything we worked on during the Ten Days of Judgment, during the previous years and previous reincarnations.
The Surrounding Light (Or Makif) is the light around us that we have not managed yet to achieve and to correct (Tikkun) in our soul. Each of us has a different Surrounding Light, since each of us has a different Tikkun. (Different goals we need to achieve, different insights we need to obtain, or different problems we need to overcome, etc.).
On the 15th of Tishrei the surrounding light starts to enter our souls. This light determines our motivation and vision for the year to come. The Surrounding Light has two components: intensity and quality. Strong Surrounding Light will be manifested in a person as a strong sense of motivation, enthusiasm and high ability to overcome obstacles. The quality of our Surrounding Light means having a vision and good values, inspiration and the ability to see beyond the horizon.
The Wisdom of Kabbalah teaches that our Surrounding Light effects our protection, since having a powerful and high quality Surrounding Light will assure us to always be in the right place at the right time. The momentum of our progress and self transformation will protect us from falling into troubles and disasters. That is the secret of the Sukka, the root of this word is – S.K.K, to shade, shield and to protect (in Hebrew)
The Mystical secret of the Sukka
So what is the connection to the Exodus?
According to the Zohar, through all the years of wandering in the desert the Israelites were given three gifts thanks to the three brothers: Moses (Manna – the special bread that came from heaven), Miriam (The Well) and Aharon (The Clouds of Glory). Those clouds kept the Israelites unharmed, guarded and protected. When it is said that the Sukka is in memory of those clouds, it is a hint that by sitting in it we attract defending powers, those “Lights of Hasadim (Grace)” that fill the universe during the days of Sukkot. These Lights also enter gradually, in seven stages, during the seven days of the holiday.
The strongest Surrounding Light enters on the first day of Sukkot which is also the fifth day of the entering of the Inner Light, which is the strongest that day. This special intensity of Hesed flowing into the universe is the reason for establishing it as a holiday (Hag). On the other days of Sukkot the Surrounding Lights are less intense and that is why those days are called Hol HaMo’ed – that means that these days are semi-holiday, work is allowed however limited.
The connection to the Surrounding Lights occurs while we sit in the Sukka and participate in meditation to make the connection, while we eat, sleep, learn or pray our goal is draw this Light into our lives.
The Magen David – A Symbol of Protection
The upper triangle symbolizes balance in the spiritual world while the lower triangle symbolizes balance in the physical world.
The individual self is symbolized as the center of the star.
During the seven days of Sukkot we build the seven components of the Magen David by inviting the Ushpizin.
Ushpizin (Guests in Aramaic)
The Ushpizin are spiritual guests we invite into the Sukka on every day of the holiday. Those guests are the Biblical Patriarchs. Each of them represents a different spiritual force and together they create the Magen David:
The Four Species – Arba’at HaMinim
The purpose of the Four Species – Lulav (young unopened palm of a Date Palm), Etrog (The fruit of a Citron tree), Hadas (Myrtle branches) and Arava (Willow branches) – is to draw lights from the upper worlds in order to strengthen the Magen David for the year to come.
During the Hallel prayer, every morning during the seven days of Sukkot, there are five series of shaking the Four Species corresponding five Sefirot: Keter, Hokhma, Bina, Zeir Anpin and Malkhut. Each set of shakings done in six different directions: south – Hesed, north – Gevura, east – Tiferet, up – Netsah, down – Hod, and backwards (west) – Yesod; while the person shaking is Malkhut. With these shakings we once again build Magen David (The Shield of David) for our protection.
The main idea of Sukkot is to draw in lights of protection, spiritual growth and personal energy and stamina for the whole year with happiness, love and sharing.
You can find more study on the topic on Live Kabbalah University site.