Sharona Margolin Halickman

The Significance of Sukkot

Photo Courtesy Sharona Halickman

At the end of Parshat Vayetze, Lavan sent Yaakov and his family on their way to return home.

As Yaakov entered the Land of Israel, we see that he named the places that he encountered along the way.

In Breisheet 32:1-2 we read:

Yaakov continued on his way- and angels of God encountered him. When he saw them, Yaakov said, “This is God’s own camp,” and he named the place Machanayim (two camps).”

In Parshat Vayishlach, After Yaakov crossed the Yabok and fought with the angel, in Breisheet 32:30, “Yaakov named the place Peniel (face of God), ‘for I have seen God face to face and yet my life has been spared.’”

After Esav went home to Seir, Yaakov went to Sukkot (Breisheet 33:17):

Yaakov travelled to Sukkot and built himself a house (bayit), and for his livestock he made sukkot (booths). He therefore named the place Sukkot.

We learn in the Talmud, Megilla 17a that Yaakov was in Sukkot for eighteen months.

Rashi, as explained by the Maharsha points out that he was there for a summer, a winter and another summer.

A house implies a winter home while a sukkah is a summer dwelling. The plural “sukkot” suggests two seasons of shelter-dwelling while house in the singular alludes to a single winter. Nothing is derived from the first mention of Sukkot because that is the name of the town.

The places that Yaakov named appear once again in the books of the prophets:

The location of Sukkot is outlined in the book of Yehoshua as part of the tribe of Gad’s inheritance (13:24-28):

…All of the cities of Gilad, and half the land of the children of Amon…and from Cheshbon to Ramat HaMitzpeh and Vetonim and from Machanayim to the border of Dvir. And in the valley:…Sukkot and Zaphon- the rest of the kingdom of Sichon, king of Cheshbon- the Jordan at its border, to the shore of the Kineret Sea on the eastern side of the Jordan…

In Shoftim 8:4-9 the cities of Sukkot and Peniel appear in the story of Gidon:

Gidon arrived at the Jordan and crossed over, but the 300 men that were with him were weary from the chase. He said to the people of Sukkot, “Please provide loaves of bread for the men following me, for they are exhausted, and I am pursuing Zebah and Zalmunna, the kings of Midian…”

The people of Sukkot refused to help out so Gidon ascended to Peniel but they too refused to help.

In Melachim I 7:46, we see that the spot where King Shlomo made the copper vessels for the Temple was in the Plain of Jordan between Sukkot and Zarethan.

Do we know where Sukkot is located today?

According to archaeologist Yochanan Aharoni, Sukkot is associated with Tel Dir Alla, located in the Biblical borders of the Land of Israel on the eastern side of the Jordan (where Jordan is today) in the spot where Wadi Yabok meets the Jordan River.

We have come a long way from the days of Gidon when the people of Sukkot and Peniel refused to give his soldiers food. Today, everyone is reaching out to make sure that the soldiers are fed properly.

As the weather has changed and we have moved in from our sukkot to our homes, we must remember that our soldiers are still staying in makeshift homes in order to protect us.

When one travels to the border of Gaza, they encounter a surprising sight. The whole area is frozen in time back to October 7 and the sukkot have still not been taken down.

May we quickly finish off the enemy and allow for the soldiers to return to their warm homes. May we have strength to rebuild what was destroyed and take down the sukkot that remind us of how much we have lost.

May the blessing that we say in the Hashkiveynu prayer each Friday night be fulfilled: Blessed are you God who spreads the sukkah (shelter) of peace upon us, upon all of Israel and upon Jerusalem.

About the Author
Sharona holds a BA in Judaic Studies from Stern College and an MS in Jewish Education from Azrieli Graduate School, Yeshiva University. Sharona was the first Congregational Intern and Madricha Ruchanit at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, NY. After making aliya in 2004, Sharona founded Torat Reva Yerushalayim, a non profit organization based in Jerusalem which provides Torah study groups for students of all ages and backgrounds.
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