The High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, are followed a week later by a weeklong harvest festival, called Sukkot or “booths.” Sukkot not only reflects joy in the physical bounty of God’s creation, but also reminds Jews of the long period of ancestral wanderings in the wilderness between Egypt and the Promised Land – during which time the Israelites sojourned in temporary dwellings. Jews are commanded to build fragile structures (booths) and to eat and even sleep in them all week, in order to experience the past as if it were present. These booths are modeled after the huts of harvest workers and are roofed with branches cut from trees and vines. Sukkot culminates with Simchat Torah, “the Rejoicing in the Torah.” Joy in physical bounty is echoed by joy in spiritual bounty. It is a time of celebration, with dancing and singing by the congregation. On that day, the yearlong cycle of Torah reading is completed, the Scrolls are rewound, and a new cycle of readings begins.
Often overlooked in the Skirball Museum’s core exhibition, this woodcut was meant to sit outside of a sukkah and outlines some of the rituals surrounding Sukkot.
The text in the upper sections states the commandment to live in booths. “…and on the fifteenth day of the seventh month there shall be the feast of tabernacles to the Lord for seven days…. You shall dwell in Sukkot seven days… that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel to dwell in Sukkot when I brought them out of the land of Egypt…” In the middle is the prayer said upon entering the Sukkah whereby, according to Jewish mysticism, we invite the Ushpizin (guests) to join us.
The Zohar (a classical mystical work attributed to Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai) teaches that for dwelling faithfully in their Sukkot, the people of Israel merit the privilege of inviting the Shechinah (visible manifestation of God in the world) and the seven “faithful shepherds” who descended from heaven to enter the Sukkot as guests. These seven are: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, and King David. Each day one leads the guests of honor in chronological order. For example, on the first day Abraham leads the other six and that day is referred to as Ushpizin of Abraham. These seven are guests in every sukkah throughout the seven days of the festival to observe how the mitzvah is fulfilled.
Three of the illustrations on the plaque have been identified as motifs of King David, and we are able to infer that the fourth illustration is also of the famous King. The illustrations are:
Right side upper: David & Goliath
Right side lower: David with his harp
Left side upper: David struggles with a lion
Left side lower: David with the Lion of Judah at his feet