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Sukkot: The Season of Joy

October 18, 2016

by: Ilse Posselt

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The inside of a decorated “sukkah,” a temporary shelter outside

Tuesday, 18 October 2016 | The rhythm of life in the Land of Promise is governed by a cycle of annual holidays, days set aside in the 12-month 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 ushered 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 15th 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 the High Holidays. During the time of the First and Second Temples 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 out 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 in the faithfulness of God for every day’s needs.

God’s instructions for the festival of Sukkot were 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’” (Lev. 23:42–43).

Today, more than three millennia after the Exodus, the descendants of those who God led out of Egypt continue to celebrate Sukkot according to the Almighty’s directives and Israelis everywhere construct temporary shelters outside of 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 favorite, Brimmer says.

Building the sukkah is a great family adventure and old and young usually come together to erect and then 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 structures—just like their ancestors did in the wilderness. “It is used as often as possible during the week,” Brimmer notes, “for sitting, telling, 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 in all of their ancestors’ daily needs while they were wandering for 40 years in the desert. 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 you and your loved ones a happy Sukkot and a festive season of joy from Jerusalem.

Posted on October 18, 2016

Source: (Bridges for Peace, 18 October 2016)

Photo Credit: Ai Yamamoto/ Bridges for Peace

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