by: Ilse Strauss
Friday, 7 October 2022 | Sunset on Sunday night marks the beginning of Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles), the seventh and final feast given to Israel in Leviticus 23. The celebration starts on the 15th day of the seventh biblical month of Tishrei and lasts for seven joyful days to end when the sun sets again next Sunday on the 22nd day of Tishrei.
The Feast of Tabernacles is the last of the three Fall Feasts, following Rosh HaShanah (Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), and marks an end to the High Holy Days.
The name Sukkot is plural for sukkah, the Hebrew word for hut or booth. The feast commemorates the 40 years a fledgling nation of former slaves wandered the desert en route to the Promised Land, living in temporary huts or sukkot—with nothing but the faithfulness of God to provide for their daily necessities, such as safety, shelter and sustenance in a barren wilderness.
Today, more than three millennia later, the descendants of those who spent four decades in the desert sustained by God’s care still celebrate Sukkot according to His command: “You shall dwell in booths for seven days…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…” (Lev. 23:42–43).
The days leading up to the holiday pass in a flurry of activity as Israelis become makeshift carpenters to construct temporary shelters outside their homes, in backyards and on balconies, sidewalks and every other conceivable open space. Building the sukkah is always a great family adventure, and young and old usually come together to erect and then decorate the family’s temporary dwelling.
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 temporary dwellings—often made from a frame of wood or metal, covered with sheets, rugs or blankets as “walls” and branches or leaves as the roof through which those inside can see the sky—becomes “home.” For the week of Sukkot, Israelis spend their free time in the sukkah, enjoying their meals, visiting with loved ones and even sleeping under the stars—much like their ancestors did in the wilderness.
God places a weighty emphasis on Sukkot by including it as the last of the three pilgrimage feasts alongside Passover and Shavuot (Feast of Weeks). In biblical times, each Jewish male was required to travel to Jerusalem for these three holidays to appear in the Temple before God’s presence (Exod. 23:14–17, Deut. 16:16). Aside from the official names, Jewish tradition also ascribes a short description to the three pilgrimage festivals. Passover is known as “The Season of Our Freedom,” Shavuot as “The Season of the Giving of our Torah (Gen.–Deut.)” and Sukkot as “The Season of Our Rejoicing.” While the first two descriptors are rather obvious, the connection between Sukkot and joy can be a bit more puzzling.
God Himself draws the correlation between Sukkot and joy when He instructs Israel to spend the feast in delight and jubilation before Him (Lev. 23:40). Joy is thus a decision based on God’s directive rather than a fleeting emotion.
Moreover, on Sukkot Israel remembers and affirms that true happiness is not found in the earthly trappings that money can buy; neither is stability derived from a hefty bank balance, a fancy title or a lofty position. On Sukkot, Israel celebrates God as the one true source of joy, love, security, provision and protection. The God who met every need of their ancestors as they wandered exposed in the wilderness for 40 years with no way to fend for themselves is the same God who continues to care for Israel in the Promised Land. That is certainly reason for rejoicing.
The significance of the sukkah or temporary hut also goes beyond a physical reminder of God’s care to fulfil our everyday needs. Jewish tradition holds that dwelling in the sukkah is like being enfolded in God’s embrace. According to this belief, God commanded Israel to erect the temporary dwellings in memory of the “clouds of glory.”
During the Israelites’ wandering in the wilderness, God provided a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. The pillar of cloud guided the Israelites as they journeyed by day, but when they camped at night, the cloud took on a different form and became a tabernacle overhead. This was reportedly the same cloud of glory that hovered above Mount Sinai—the clouds of the glory of God.
While the Israelites dwelled in the desert, Jewish belief holds that God enfolded them in a tabernacle of the cloud of His glory, the cloud of His presence. Moreover, each year over Sukkot, He invites their posterity to do the same. As Israel dwells in temporary huts in memory of the cloud of His glory in the desert, they, like their forefathers, dwell in His embrace.
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, October 10. We will resume normal operations, including news, on Tuesday, October 11.
Posted on October 7, 2022
Source: (Bridges for Peace, October 7, 2022)
Photo Credit: Hannah Taylor/bridgesforpeace.com
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