The festival of Sukkot, commemorating G-d's
enveloping protection of the Children of Israel during their 40-year journey
through the desert (1313-1273 BCE), is celebrated for seven days, beginning
from the eve of Tishrei 15. During this time, we are commanded to
"dwell" in a sukkah -- a hut of temporary construction, with a roof
covering of raw, unfinished vegetable matter (branches, reeds, bamboo, etc.) --
signifying the temporality and fragily of human habitation and man-made shelter and our utter dependence upon G-d's protection and providence. "How [does one
fulfill] the mitzvah of dwelling in the sukkah? One should eat, drink, and live
in the sukkah, both day and night, as one lives in one's house on the other
days of the year: for seven days a person should make his home his temporary
dwelling, and his sukkah his permanent dwelling" (Code of Jewish Law, Orach
At least one k'zayit (approx. 1 oz.) of bread should be eaten in the
sukkah on the first evening of the festival, between nightfall and midnight. A special blessing, Leishiv BaSukkah, is recited. For the rest of the festival, all meals must be eaten in the sukkah (see the Code of Jewish Law or consult a Halachic authority as to what constitutes a
"meal"). Chabad custom is to refrain from eating or drinking anything outside
of the sukkah, even a glass of water.
When the Holy Temple stood in Jerusalem, one of the special Sukkot observances was to pour water on the Altar. The drawing of water for this purpose was preceded by all-night celebrations in the Temple courtyard; on the 15 steps leading to the azarah (inner courtyard) stood Levites while playing a variety of musical instruments, sages danced and juggled burning torches, and huge oil-burning lamps illuminated the entire city. The singing and dancing went on until daybreak, when a procession would make its way to the Shiloach Spring which flowed in a valley below the Temple to "draw water with joy." "One who did not see the joy of the water-drawing celebrations," declared the sages of the Talmud, "has not seen joy in his life."
While water was poured each day of the fetival, the special celebrations were held
only on Chol Hamoed since many of the elements of the celebration (e.g., the playing of musical instruments) are forbidden on Yom Tov.
Today, we commemorate these joyous celebrations by holding Simchat Beit HaShoeivah ("joy of the water drawing") events in the streets, with music and dancing. The Lubavitcher Rebbe initiated the custom of holding such celebrations on Shabbat and Yom Tov as well -- without musical instruments of course. The fact that we cannot celebrate as we did in the Temple, said the Rebbe, means that we are free to celebrate the joy of Sukkot with singing and dancing every day of the festival.
Every society has that which bonds it: A common ancestry and a system of lineage. Or a common language or common borders or governing body. Usually, it is a combination of several factors that mold a mass of people into a single whole.
The Jewish people are unique in that they have only a single nucleus—and it is none of the above.
All that bonds us is Torah. Nothing else has proven capable of holding us together for more than a generation or two. Nothing else, other than the same Torah that first forged us as a nation.