Mishnah Sukkot
Chapter V

by Jonathan Wolf


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Chapter 5

This last chapter in Mishnah Sukkah continues with a description of the rites and celebrations during temple times. The Rambam writes in his Mishnah Torah:

"Although we are required to rejoice on all festivals, there was special rejoicing in the Temple during the Sukkot festival as it is written; ‘You shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days(Vayikra 23:40)’. How was this done? On the day preceding the first day of Sukkot, a raised section for women and a lower section for men were prepared in the Temple, so that they might not mix. They began to celebrate at the conclusion of the first day of the festival. On each day of Chol ha’Moed, the celebrations began after the daily afternoon sacrifice and continued for the rest of the day and the entire night."

"How was this celebration observed? Flutes were sounded, and harps, lyres, and cymbals were played. Anyone who could play an instrument, played it; anyone who could sing, sang. They danced, clapping hands and leaping, each one to the best of his ability. However, this celebration was not permitted on the Sabbath or one the first day of the festival."

"It was a religious duty to observe this celebration as much as possible. Ignorant individuals, or anybody who wished to participate took no leading part in it. Only great Jewish scholars, heads of academies, members of the Sanhedrin, elders, and men of piety and good deeds danced, clapped hands, made music and entertained in the Temple in the days of Sukkot. Everyone else, men and women, came to watch and listen."

"The joy which a person derives form doing good deeds and from loving God, who has commanded us to practice them, is a supreme form of divine worship…"

Mishnah 1:

Flute playing for sometimes five days and sometimes six days. This was the flute playing at the Libation Water Well which overrode neither a Sabbath nor a Holyday. They said that anyone who had not witnessed the rejoicing at the Libation water Well had never seen rejoicing in his life.

Mishnah 2:

At the close of the first day of the Festival of Tabernacles, they went down to the Court of the women where they had made an important rearrangement. And golden candlesticks were there with four golden bowls at their tops and four ladders to each one, and four youths from the young priests with pitchers of oil, holding a hundred and twenty logs, in their hands, which they used to pour in every bowl.


Thy put up a gallery (as explained above in the Rambam’s commentary) for the women overlooking the men’s area. The candlesticks were fifty cubits high and from the Temple Mount, overlooked all of Jerusalem.

Mishnah 3:

From the worn out drawers and girdles of the priests they made wicks and with them set alight; and there was no courtyard in Jerusalem that was not lit up with the light at the water Libation Water Well ceremony.


Mishnah 4:

Pious men and men of good deeds used to dance before them with burning torches in their hands and sang before them songs and praises. And the Levites on harps, and on lyres, and with cymbals, and with trumpets and with other instruments of music without number upon the fifteen steps leading down from the Court of the Israelites to the Women’s Court, corresponding to "The Fifteen Songs of Ascent" in the Psalms; upon them the Levites used to stand with musical instruments and sing hymns. And two priests stood at the Upper Gate which led down from the Israelites’ Court to the Court of the Women with two trumpets in their hands. At cock-crow, they sounded a prolonged blast, a quavering note, and a prolonged blast. When they arrived at the tenth step they sounded a prolonged blast, a quavering note, and a prolonged blast. When they reached the Forecourt, they blew a prolonged blast, a quavering note, and a prolonged blast. They kept up prolonged blasts and proceeded until they reached the gate that led out to the east; when they arrived at the gate that led forth to the east, they turned their faces west and said, ‘Our ancestors, when they were in this place turned with their backs unto the Temple and their faces towards the east and they prostrated themselves eastward toward the sun, but as for us, our eyes are turned to the Eternal’. Rabbi Yehudah says, They used to repeat the words, ‘We are for the Eternal and to the Eternal our eyes are turned.’

Mishnah 5:

They did not sound less than twenty one blasts in the Temple and not more than forty eight. On every day they blew there one blast in the Temple; three at the opening of the gates; nine at the morning daily burnt offering; and nine at the evening daily burnt offering. At the additional offerings, they added another nine. At the eve of the Sabbath they added six more; three to cause the people to lay down their work and three to mark the distinction between the sacred and the profane. If the eve of a Sabbath were within the Festival of Tabernacles, there were forty eight: three at the opening of the gates; three at the upper gate; and three at the lower gate; three at the drawing of water; three at the Altar; nine at the morning daily burnt offering; nine at the evening daily burnt offering; nine at the additional offerings, three to make the people cease work, and three to differentiate between the sacred and the profane.

Mishnah 6:

On the first day of the Festival of Tabernacles there were there thirteen bullocks and two rams and one he-goat. There still remained fourteen he-lambs for the eight watches. On the first day six offered two each, and the rest, one each. On the second day, five offered two each and the remainder one each. On the third day, four offered up two each, and the rest one each. On the fourth day, three offered two each, and the others one each. On the fifth day, two offered two each, and the remainder one each. On the sixth day, one offered two each, and the remainder one each. On the seventh day all were equal. On the eighth day, they reverted to the casting of lots as on all other festivals. They said, the one that had offered bullocks on one day should not offer them on the next day but must take it in turns.



These mishnayot are giving descriptions of the offerings during the festival. The people were divided into twenty four divisions. The kohanim and leviim, in each formed a mishmar or "watch", to be on temple duty a full week every half year; and the remaining weeks, which fell on Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot, were served by all the divisions as all males had to be subdivided into seven sections, each taking one day’s service of the week in turn. Every mishmar was accompanied by representative laymen called anshei ma’amad, to stand by and recite prayers during the sacrificial ceremonies.

Mishnah 7:

At three periods of the year all the watches shared equally in the prescribed offerings of the festivals and in the division of the Showbread (lechem ha-panim). On the Festival of weeks they sued to say to each, ‘here is thy unleavened bread for thee, here is thy leavened bread for thee.’ The watch whose time for ministering was fixed offered the daily burnt offerings, vow offerings, and free will offerings, and all other offerings of the congregation; it offerd all of them. On a Holyday, which fell next to a Sabbath either before it or after it all the watches used to share equally in the division of the Showbread.


According to the Torah (Vayikra 23:17) there were to be divided the

"shtai lechem", or two leavened loaves; or bread of the first fruits. The division of the Showbread is described in the Torah (Vayikra 24:5-9):

"And thou shalt take fine flour, and thou shalt bake thereof twelve cakes: two tenth parts (of an ephah) shall be in one cake. And thou shalt set them in two rows, six in a row, upon the pure table before the Lord. And thou shalt put upon each row, pure frankincense, that it may be to the bread for a memorial part, even an offering made by fire unto the Lord. Every Sabbath day he shall set it in order before the Lord continually; it is from the children of Israel, as an everlasting covenant. And it shall be for Aaron and his sons; and they shall eat it in a holy place; for it is most holy unto him of the offerings made by fire of the Lord, as a statute forever."

Mishnah 8:

If it happened that a day intervened, the watch whose period of administration was fixed used to take ten loaves but the one that delayed took two. But on all other days of the year the incoming took six and the departing took six. Rabbi Yehudah says, The arriving took seven and the outgoing took five. Those who arrived shared out in the north and those who left divided out in the south. Bilgah always divided it in the south, for their ring was rendered immovable and their window was blocked up.


Every mishmar was named after its original first head. The Bilgah watch was in disgrace and always took up its position to the south; according to some commentators, this was due to one of Bilgah’s daughters marrying a Greek soldier; and some maintain that this was due to their slowness and indifference to the performance of their duties. For more understanding, refer to the Book of Chronicles I 24: 14. Also, every mishmar had a ring fixed in the floor of the slaughterhouse and it had an opening through which the neck of an animal to be slaughtered was passed under to assist in the process.


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