As the nation of Israel prepares for the Biblical holiday of Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles), Jerusalem is bracing for 700,000 visitors in Israel’s capital. The holiday of Sukkot begins in Israel on the evening of October 4 and continues until sundown on October 11.
“The most popular place to visit during Sukkot is the Kotel, the Western Wall,” explained Rabbi Mendy Blau, director of Colel Chabad, one of Israel’s leading charity organizations, to Breaking Israel News. “Part of the reason is that the Bible commands Jews to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem a minimum of three times a year, for Passover, for Shavuot and for Sukkot.”
Sukkot is Israel’s busiest season for Jewish and Christian tourism. Not only is this one of the holiest and happiest times of the year, but the country also holds a multitude of cultural and religious festivities. All this leads to a plethora of visitors to the Kotel.
The holiday is celebrated by dwelling in an outdoor hut, called a sukkah, which has a roof of natural vegetation, like bamboo sticks or palm branches. For the duration of the holiday, at the bare minimum, all meals must be eaten in a sukkah and traditionally, people host guests to enjoy the holiday together.
In order to help both visitors as well as hungry and needy individuals to fulfill these Biblical commandments, Colel Chabad erects an enormous sukkah at the Western Wall plaza every year.
“The sages explain that the only true joy is shared joy,” continued Rabbi Blau. “Therefore, though all year round we do our best to have guests at our table, this is an especially strong custom during Sukkot. In fact, Sukkot guests have a special Aramaic name: ushpizin.”
Ushpizin refers to guests on Sukkot and is also a term used for a mystical concept relating to the seven days of the holiday. The sages teach that on each day one of the ancient “shepherds of Israel” comes to spiritually visit every sukkah in order to share their special energies.
The seven shepherds are Abraham, who personifies giving; Isaac, who personifies strength and discipline; Jacob, who personifies truth and beauty; Moses, who personifies endurance; Aaron, who personifies humility and peace; Joseph, who personifies connection; and David, who personifies leadership.
The Bible states:
You shall rejoice in your festival—you, your son, your daughter, your manservant, your maidservant, the Levite, the stranger, the orphan and the widow who are within your cities. Deuteronomy 16:14
12th century Bible scholar Maimonides teaches from this Torah verse, “When one eats and drinks, one must also feed the stranger, the orphan, the widow and other unfortunate paupers.”
Colel Chabad takes this teaching seriously. In addition to erecting a sukkah for Western Wall visitors, Colel Chabad provides round-the-clock meals for those in need.
“Thousands come to pray at the Kotel the entire week of Sukkot,” Rabbi Menachem Traxler, Director of Volunteering for Colel Chabad’s Pantry Packers, which provides food for needy families year-round, told Breaking Israel News.
“Hundreds of people come to the Colel Chabad sukkah each day of the holiday, not only to get a drink and eat their own food, but, many forget to bring food and many more don’t have any food of their own to eat. We ensure that everyone, especially impoverished people, have a festive meal by serving chicken, fish, vegetables, rice and more.”
In fact, Colel Chabad’s meal distribution doubles during the three week period between Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, and Sukkot. “During this time of year, Colel Chabad, with the help of generous donors, distributes $3.5 million of assistance to impoverished people in Israel,” said Rabbi Traxler.
“That funding covers baskets of holiday food for families and the elderly, pre-paid food shopping cards and the funding to run our many soup kitchens throughout the country. I feel blessed to be living a life of giving through the crucial work of Colel Chabad.”
To donate to Colel Chabad, please visit here.