In Biblical days, when this was one of the three pilgrimage festivals, the people would come to Jerusalem in procession to celebrate the festival. There were further processions around the Temple altar.
There were also processions to mark the water-drawing; the Mishnah states, “Whoever has not witnessed the festival of the water-drawing has never seen true celebration” (Sukkah 5:1).
In post-Temple times there are the Sukkot processions around the synagogue with the arba’ah minim, the “four species” of plants.
Possibly the religious processions that are practised in other faiths derive from these Sukkot practices – another Jewish contribution to civilisation.
Perhaps Sukkot is also the forerunner of the walks for a cause that are common in our own time, one of the most impressive being the great walk across Sydney Harbour Bridge with more than a quarter of a million people in support of aboriginal reconciliation.
It is exhilarating to be part of a crowd demonstrating a shared commitment to an ideal and marking progress towards a goal.
In the difficult history of the last few years, there have been great walks for Israel in communities all over the world, showing that those who love Israel will not remain silent and unaffected when Israel is mauled by the media and populist views are moulded by misinformation (Mark Twain said, “Do not read a newspaper and you will be uninformed; read one and you will be misinformed”).
If marches, walks and processions have a goal and driving purpose, what is it that the Sukkot processions hope to achieve?
The answer has to do with the arba’ah minim, which are symbolic of Divine bounty; carrying them in procession is a statement of gratitude for our blessings.
They also show there is sanctity in ordinary things, even in plants and fruits.
Gratitude ought to come naturally, but unfortunately blessings are often taken for granted.
Sanctifying the ordinary things is also axiomatic in Judaism, but so many people place a wedge between religion and life and think religion is only for special times, special places and special people. The Bible’s rule is b’chol d’rachecha da’ehu, “Acknowledge Him in all your ways” (Prov. 3:6).