Names of the Week
BY DAVID CURWIN
The holiday of Sukkot has several names. Let’s take a look at them:
One name of Sukkot, of course, is חג הסוכות .” On the 15th day of this seventh month there shall be the Feast of Booths (Sukkot) to Hashem, [to last] seven days. […] You shall live in booths (sukkot) for seven days; all citizens in Israel shall live in booths, in order that future generations may know that I made the Israelite people live in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt; I Hashem your G-d” (Vayikra 23:34, 42–43).
While the word sukkot in Tanach often refers to the holiday, there are also examples of sukkot referring to commonplace booths. Those booths were used for shade, either for workers in a field or for livestock. The shade provided by these booths is the root of the word sukkah. “Sukkah” derives from the root סכך “to cover” which also provides us with the word we use to describe the covering of the sukkah: סכך This same root is the foundation for other words involving covering:
•מוסך – In its only occurrence in the Bible (Melachim II 16:18), this meant a covered portico; today it means “a garage”.
•מסך – Originally a curtain or screen; today it often refers to a computer monitor or the screen of a phone.
•מסכה – A covering; today it means “mask” (influenced by the English word).
In the Torah, Sukkot is also referred to as “Chag HaAsif” (Shemot 23:16 and 34:22). Often translated as the “Harvest Festival,” a more precise translation would be the “Festival of Ingathering,” since the crops are gathered in from the field at harvest time, as is mentioned in Vayikra 23:39: “Mark, on the 15th day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the yield of your land.”
The root אסף means “to gather, to collect, to assemble.” Other related words are אספה- “assembly” אסוף – “compilation” and אסף – “collection.”
There is some disagreement over which other roots may be related to אסף, and this debate helps us understand the original meaning of אסף as well. Some say it is related to the root יסף- “to add, increase.” This latter root is found in words related to increasing,such as מוסיף, מוסף, נוסף, תוספת. As one collects and gathers, one’s possessions increase.
Others say אסף is related to the root סוף, meaning “to end,” since gathering in items (such as the grains from a harvest), puts them in a closed, limited area. This is seen in another meaning of ָאסף – “he took away, withdrew.”
Both meanings are found in the name given to Yosef by Rachel: “She conceived and bore a son, and said, ‘G-d has taken away (אסף) my disgrace.’ So she named him Yosef, which is to say, ‘May Hashem add (יסף)another son for me’” (Bereishit 30:23–24).
In Yechezkel 45:23, Sukkot is not referred to by name, but simply called החג. This name is found frequently in rabbinic literature, so any mention of just “chag” will indicate Sukkot. Of course, with the addition of the specific chag it could be referring to any of the three pilgrimage festivals. The notion of pilgrimage is reflected in its root: חגג” – to make a pilgrimage, to celebrate a feast.”
The root חגג can also mean “to dance” and is related to the root חוגּ” – to make or move in a circle.” Although today it is an anachronism, the “dialing” of phones in Hebrew is called חיוג , and an area code is an אזור חיוג ּ . From the notion of a “circle of people,” we get the word חוגּ , meaning “club” or “class.”
As seen above, Sukkot was the most prominent of the agricultural holidays. This is due to the end of the harvest season, a time of great joy. That feeling is reflected in the name זמן שמחתנוּ , which appears in our prayers. The root שמח is connected to the root צמח – “to sprout.” A similar case is found in English, in which the word “elated” means both “happy” and “lifted up.” Another meaning of ַשמח is “to glow” which is why it is often found together in with the word for light, as in אורה ושמחה.
David Curwin is a writer living in Efrat and the author of the Balashon blog, balashon.com.