Sukkot 2017

First Day of Sukkot

Torah Reading: Leviticus 22:26 - 23:44 & Numbers 29:12-16

Haftarah: Zechariah 14, 1Kings 8:2-21, Nehemiah 8:13-18

Psalms: 113 - 118

NT:  John 7:1-24


About Sukkot (The Feast of Tabernacles)

We mentioned the Book of Life when we spoke of Yom Kippur. Jesus told his disciples to "rejoice because your names are written in heaven" (Luke 10:20). Sukkot is indeed the holiday of rejoicing! "and ye shall rejoice before the LORD your God seven days." (Lev 23:40). This true joy can only be achieved, as Jesus stated, when we are free from sin and our names are written in the Book of Life. "Light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart." Psalm 97:11. That is why this holiday must come directly after Yom Kippur.

Sukkot is one of the three holidays of pilgrimage - when we were supposed to come and celebrate at the temple in Jerusalem. The other two are Passover and the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost). We now know that Passover was fulfilled when Jesus died on the cross, and that the Feast of Weeks was fulfilled when the disciples received the Holy Spirit. Sukkot, however, has not yet been fulfilled. It is still in the future. The future fulfillment of Sukkot is mentioned in Zechariah 14 - it symbolizes the time when God will literally dwell with His people.  Sukkot is also the third of the Fall Feasts. If Rosh haShana reminds us of the return of the Messiah with the clouds of heaven, and Yom Kippur reminds us of the day of judgement, Sukkot reminds us of the time when our dwelling with God will be manifested on earth.

Why do we sit in a Sukka?

We build the sukka (booth or tabernacle) because God commanded it.  Many explanations have been given for this commandment. One of them is the obvious reason that God said - "Ye shall dwell in booths seven days; all that are Israelites born shall dwell in booths that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel to dwell in booths, when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God." (Lev 23:42-43). So we are celebrating the fact that God brought us out of Egypt, that we are totally dependent on him, and that our security and protection come from God alone.  We need to be out in God's creation, exposed to the elements, and experience the fact that we need him. In a sense we are celebrating "God with us" - Immanuel!

Agriculturally this is the time of fruit harvest - the time when the farmer has finished his work, sits down and thinks "everything's done - now I can rest. I have provision for the winter, and I don't need to worry". This is a security in one's own work. Exactly at that time of the year God commands us to live outside for a while. To experience that security in our own work is false. We need him.

The Sukka is also a picture of our own life - it's temporary. Our life here on earth is short. Our permanent home is in heaven.

We mentioned Immanuel - one of Jesus' names. The sukka is a clear symbol of the Messiah. He came and dwelled with us on the earth for a time. It was a temporary dwelling. It's also the feast of the "bikurim" - the firstfruits - the same word as "firstborns" in Hebrew. It's the time to remember the incarnation - how "the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth." (John 1:14). Many believe that Jesus was born on Sukkot, relying on certain mathematical calculations from the NT, claiming that he was even born in a Sukka. Whether it's true or not, it is important to have one time a year when we remind ourselves of the incarnation and the divinity of Christ.

There are many different symbols of the Messiah, but the Sukka is the only such symbol that you can actually go into - it is like a big hug from the Lord. What a blessing it is, to have our sins forgiven and come to the Lord and receive His protection and blessing all around us. "As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the LORD surrounds His people from henceforth even for ever." Psalm 125:2

The Four Spicies

The Torah tells us to take "the boughs of goodly trees, branches of palm trees, and the boughs of thick trees, and willows of the brook" (Lev 23:40). This is directly connected to rejoicing. Branches of palm trees are connected to joy.  This reminds us of how Jesus entered Jerusalem. This was not at Sukkot, but it still shows us that these branches were a symbol of joy. In Nehemiah 8 the description of branches is slightly different, suggesting that the rabbinical modern interpretation of these four things mentioned (Lulav, Etrog, Hadas, Arava), is not what God had in mind. In any case, these four things that we by tradition wave with are said to symbolize all 4 types of people, since the Etrog has both smell and taste, the Lulav only taste, the Hadas only smell and the Arava neither. Thus it symbolizes both true believers that have both faith and works, non believers that have neither, non believers that have good works, but no faith, and false believers who profess faith with their mouth but don't live accordingly. They are waved to all 6 directions, symbolizing that God is king of all kinds of people and of all the World.

About Hoshana Rabba and Simchat Beit haShoava

Hoshana Rabba is the last day of Sukkot, and is known to be the "Day of the Messiah" in Jewish tradition. On this day, the sages believed that God decides how much rain will be given during the winter, and they had a water-related ceremony at the Temple. The talmud states that "whoever hasn't participated at a Beit haShoeva celebration at the temple, has never experienced true joy". Isaiah 12:3 was recited and water was poured on the altar. It was at this "great day of the feast" that Jesus stood up and shouted "If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink." (John 7:37).

About Shmini Atseret and Simchat Torah

This is on the Eighth day after Sukkot, and it's a separate holiday in itself. Atseret menas "stop" - it's the last holiday of the season, we stop celebrations after this. It also means "assembly" - a large gathering. The only thing the Bible says about it is "On the eighth day shall be an holy convocation unto you; and ye shall offer an offering made by fire unto the LORD: it is a solemn assembly (atseret); and ye shall do no servile work therein."

We can draw two important conclusions from this - since it is the last holiday it will be "with us" as our last holiday memory during our day-to-day life afterwards. To keep our eyes on God, it is therefore important that this holiday is on the one hand connected to the Bible, but also that it is joyful - to bring the happiness of the feast with us into day-to-day life. This is why the Jewish tradition has put "Simchat Torah" on this holiday - the day when we finish reading the last part of the Torah - we read the last Parasha and we rejoice in the Word that God has given us. As we know that Jesus is the Word of God, we must also remember that this is a holiday of Jesus - celebrating Him who is God's Word that became flesh. We will also read the first chapter of the Bible - to remember that once we've finished reading the Bible we must directly start over again - because there's no such thing as completely finishing to read the Bible.

Chag Sameach! (Happy Holiday!)

Additonal Readings for Sukkot:

Sabbath of Sukkot (October 7th)

Torah Reading: Exodus 33:12 - 34:26 & Numbers 29:17-22

Haftarah: Ezekiel 38:18 - 39:16

Megilah: Ecclesiastes


Hoshana Rabbah and Beit haShoeva (October. 11th)

Torah Reading: Numbers 29:26-34

Psalm 120 - 134 (and between each Psalm recite Isaiah 12:3)

John 7:25 - 52


Shmini Atseret and Simchat Torah (October 12th)

Torah Reading: Deuteronomy 14:22 - 16:17, 33:1 - 34:12, Genesis 1:1 - 2:3

Haftarah: 1Kings 8:54 - 66, Joshua 1:1 - 1:18