Sukkot—The Season of Our Joy

September 21, 2018

by: Ilse Strauss

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Chag Sameach (Happy Holidays) from the sukkah at Bridges for Peace headquarters

Friday, 21 September 2018 | The rhythm of life in the Land of Promise is governed by a cycle of holidays set aside in the Israeli calendar to celebrate what Leviticus 23:1 calls, “The feasts of the Lord…” Some are solemn, dedicated to repentance and rededication. Others are more exuberant, a joyous celebration of God’s might, care, loving-kindness and faithfulness.

Sukkot falls in the latter category. In fact, the weeklong feast is considered such a happy time that it is referred to as “the season of our joy.” Sunset on Sunday evening ushers in the festival of Sukkot—and seven days of joyous celebration—for the people of Israel according to God’s specific instruction in Leviticus 23:40, “you shall rejoice before the LORD your God for seven days.”

Sukkot or the Feast of Tabernacles is the seventh and final feast given to Israel in the Torah (Gen.–Deut.)The celebration starts on the fifteenth day of the seventh biblical month of Tishrei and thus falls either in September or October according to the Gregorian calendar. It is the last of the three Fall Feasts, following Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, and marks an end to the High Holy Days. During the time of the First and Second Temple in Jerusalem, Sukkot was also the last of the Three Pilgrimage Festivals, the three feast days on which Israelite males were required to travel to Israel’s capital to appear before the Lord in the Temple.  

The name Sukkot is the plural of sukkah, the Hebrew word for booth. The feast commemorates the Exodus, when Moses led a fledgling nation of former slaves from under their tyrannical slave masters to the edge of the Promised Land. Some 3,500 years ago, the people of Israel wandered the desert for 40 years, living in temporary huts known as booths or sukkot, trusting the faithfulness of God for every day’s need.

God’s instructions for the festival of Sukkot was clear, “You shall dwell in booths for seven days. All who are native Israelites shall dwell in booths, that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God” (Leviticus 23:42–43).

Today, more than three millennia after the Exodus, the descendants of those whom God led out of Egypt continue to celebrate Sukkot according to the Almighty’s directives. Israelis everywhere construct temporary shelters outside their homes, in their backyards or on their balconies.

These temporary booths, or sukkot, can be made from a simple square frame of wood or metal, explains Rebecca Brimmer, International President and CEO of Bridges for Peace. Sheets, rugs or blankets are then hung over the frame to form the makeshift walls. The roof must, however, be made of leafy branches with spaces left to allow the stars to shine through. Palm fronds are always a firm favourite, Brimmer says.

Building the sukkah is always a great family adventure, and young and old usually come together to erect and decorate the family’s temporary dwelling, Brimmer continues. Great care goes into ensuring that the family sukkah is as festive as possible, with the interior beautified with pictures, flags of Israel, handicrafts, flowers and fresh fruit.

The sukkah should be big enough to accommodate a table for dining, all members of the family and a number of friends. For the seven days of Sukkot, the people of Israel will live in the temporary shelters, having their meals under the stars, visiting with loved ones and even sleeping in the makeshift structure—just like their ancestors did in the wilderness.

“It is used as often as possible during the week,” Brimmer notes, “for sitting, talking, eating, singing and entertaining friends.”

While in the sukkah, families will also retell the story of the Exodus, recalling with great joy, singing and dancing, God’s faithfulness in providing their ancestors’ daily needs while they were wandering the desert for 40 years. In this way, Brimmer says, Sukkot “reminds them of their transition from slavery to freedom.”

The flimsiness of the millions of sukkot set up all over Israel also serves a purpose: it reminds those who spend a week within the temporary walls that man is but a frail creature, utterly dependent on God’s protection and provision.

Bridges for Peace wishes all our Jewish friends a happy Sukkot and a festive season of joy. Please note that our offices will be closed on Monday, September 24. We will, however, resume normal operations, including news, on Tuesday, September 25.

Posted on September 21, 2018

Source: (Bridges for Peace, September 21, 2018)

Photo Credit: Hannah Taylor/bridgesforpeace.com