b'WESTERN MARBLE ARCH SYNAGOGUEa wooden platform in front of the Water Gate in Jerusalem and read the Torah to the assembly. As it dawned on them how far they had drifted from God, the people started weeping. Ezra and Nehemiah, however, stilled the crowd, saying: Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength (Neh. 8:10)The next day they returned and Ezra read further from the Torah. In the course of the reading, the people heard the command to celebrate Succot, a practice that had been neglected for generations. Word spread throughout the crowd, and within days it had been carried throughout the country. Everywhere, people could be seen once more collecting branches from olive trees, palms and myrtles to make coverings for their succot. The book of Nehemiah records that From the days of Joshua son of Nun until that day, the Israelites had not celebrated it like this. And their joy was very great (Neh. 8:17). The celebrations lasted seven days and on the eighth day, in accordance with the law, there was an assembly (8:18)in other words they celebrated Shemini Atzeret.That moment was a turning point in Jewish history, the start of a long revolution in Jewish life, in which a vision intimated long before by Moses began to become real in the life of the nation. The nation had become, in effect, the People of the Book, whose citadels were houses of study, whose heroes were teachers and scribes and whose passion was learning and the life of the mind. What Ezra and Nehemiah understood, and would be proved true many times in the following centuries, was that the real battle faced by Israel was less military than spiritual. Jews might lose everything else, but if they kept their identity, they would outlive the mightiest of empires.Succotbecamenotjustthefestivalofingathering,butalsothe great moment of national rededication. Several centuries later, the Maccabees modelled their celebrations on Succot, in the form of the festival we now call Chanukah. They celebrated it for eight days with rejoicing in the manner of Succotcarrying ivy-wreathed wands and beautiful branches, and also fronds of palms, they offered hymns of thanksgiving to Him who had given success to the purifying of His own holy place (II Macc. 10:6-7). Succot had become not only the quintessential festival of joy, but supremely the festival of the Temple and national rededication, and Chanukah was intended to mirror this.Already in Leviticus and Deuteronomy, Succot had been singled out for special celebration. And you shall rejoice on your festival, said 4'