Still About Sukkot

Today we are going to speak about the Torah reading for Shabbat that falls on intermediate days of Sukkot: Exodus 33:12-34:26. Before we do that, however, I would like to clarify some terms connected to the Festival: what does “intermediate days of Sukkot” mean?

 

In Leviticus 23, we read about Moadei Adonai – the Biblical Feasts, the special times of the Lord meeting with His people. There are only two Festivals in this list that have some days between the first and the last day of the holiday. We read that on the first and on the seventh day of the Passover shall be “a holy convocation” and                 Shabbat-rest with no work, and on the first and the eighth day of the Feast of Tabernacles shall be “a holy convocation” and Shabbat-rest with no work. The days in between these first and last days are called “intermediate days” of the festival:  Hol Hamoed. On these days, we greet one another with the words: Moadim leSimcha and many people still work, although the atmosphere is very festive and the little booths – sukkot – are everywhere. It is customary – and is considered a great blessing – to have guests in your sukkah. To those who haven’t seen it, I highly recommend watching a wonderful Israel movie Ushpizin.

A very special intermediate day is the seventh day of Sukkot, before the end of the holiday. It is called Hoshana Rabbah, and even though it is still counted among the days of Hol Hamoed, it is considered the final day of the divine “judgment”, the day when Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashana decrees are finalized. Some Jewish texts describe it as a Judgment Day akin to Yom Kippur itself.

 

Another special intermediate day (for both Festivals) is of course Shabbat. The text of Torah reading for Shabbat that falls on intermediate days of Sukkot is taken from chapters 33-34 of Exodus. In this portion, Moses implores God to let him see God’s glory (Ex. 33:18).  Also in this portion we read about the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy, or Shelosh-‘Esreh Middot HaRakhamim (שָׁלוֹשׁ עֶשְׂרֵה מִידוֹת הרַחֲמִים ) (Ex. 34:6,7).  I personally believe that there is another deep truth presented to us in this Scripture.

 

The 33rd chapter of Exodus describes events that happened right after the terrible sin of Israel – right after the Golden Calf incident when the tablets were broken by Moshe. At the end of the previous chapter, we saw Moshe interceding for the people and managing to convince God to forgive Israel. Already, at the beginning of this chapter, Moshe receives God’s confirmation: Yes, He will allow Moshe to continue his mission of leading the people of Israel into the Promised Land, the land flowing with milk and honey. However, in His words we can still hear the echo of His recent wrath. While commanding Moshe and Israel to depart for the Land, He says, “Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; for I will not go up in your midst, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.[1]

 

This seems to be a definitive statement, completely clear and expected, and completely fair after the terrible sin the people of Israel had committed. How great must be the reader’s surprise, however, when only several verses later we read, And He said, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.[2] How could it possibly be? He is not a man that He should change his mind,[3] so what can explain this seemingly contradictory and sudden change of His decision?

 

This is the profound mystery of Sukkot: His holiness is such that He cannot dwell, nor even go, with sinful and sinning people, and yet He still chooses to dwell and walk with His people, for such is His mercy. Do you ever think of yourself as not deserving of God’s fellowship? Do you ever wonder how God can still be patient with you and merciful to you, when you would have given up on yourself long ago? Just think of it: each one of us knows a myriad of reasons why the Lord could, and should, tell us:  I will not go up in your midst, lest I consume you on the way, for you are … stiff-necked. Each one of us fully deserves these words, each one of us fully deserves God’s refusal to go with us – and each one of us is fully aware of that. Yet, more than anything in the world, each of us longs to hear His words: My Presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest – and the amazing thing is that this is indeed what He is saying to us! This is God’s astounding promise to each one of us, the incomprehensible mystery of His mercy: we are stiff-necked, we do not deserve His love and His mercy, and yet, He goes with us and gives us rest.

 

There in the wilderness, this amazing promise of His mercy was given to Israel. Unfortunately, not many people remember that. Too often, not only our enemies, but also our friends, sometimes even we ourselves, see our people as being completely left and abandoned by God; as walking alone through the vast wilderness of trials and sorrows; as the ones to whom God said: I will not go up in your midst… And indeed, these were His words to us, but it was also to us that He said: “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest” – and this is the most important part! Ever since, His Presence has remained with Israel everywhere, and do you realize what that really means? All these centuries, in all the pain and suffering we have endured: in pogroms, in ghettos, in concentration camps, in all those horrible moments (weeks, months, years) of complete loneliness and misery, when to everybody, including ourselves, we seemed to be utterly abandoned – in reality, we were not alone. The Lord has been walking with us! In all their affliction, He was afflicted, and the Angel of His presence saved them.[4]

 

The same is true for us all: sinful and stiff-necked, we know that we don’t deserve His love and His mercy; we know that we don’t deserve His companionship – and yet He goes with us and gives us rest! That is why these words are about all of us—it’s about you and me. Don’t we all sometimes feel utterly alone and abandoned? Don’t we all think sometimes that all hope is gone and there is nothing left to wait or to hope for? Don’t we all sometimes feel as though God has hidden His face from us and walks with us no more? Then His promise is for each and every one of us:  My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest. His mercy, His presence with us and in our sukkot, in our tabernacles – this is the reason for our profound joy on Sukkot! [5]

[1] Exod 33:3

[2] Exod 33:14

[3] 1 Sam 15:29

[4] Isa 63:9

[5] This article is taken from the Prologue of my new book, As Though Hiding His Face.  I know, some of my readers have been waiting for this book  about Hidden Messiah since my Hidden Messiah series  on this blog; I am happy to  tell you that the  book has just been published and is available on  Amazon and on my page on this blog: https://blog.israelbiblicalstudies.com/julia-blum/.

About the author

Julia BlumJulia is a teacher and an author of several books on biblical topics. She teaches two biblical courses at the Israel Institute of Biblical Studies, “Discovering the Hebrew Bible” and “Jewish Background of the New Testament”, and writes Hebrew insights for these courses.

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  1. Virgie

    Thank you! Encouraging to my heart. I’m going on 4 years teaching our Hebraic Biblical Inheritance to middle schoolers at a co-op They here it. They like it. My prayers is that they & their families will cling to it. I’ve tried to teach it to adults at my home church….it has taken years of just a seed here & a seed there. The Father has been watering. People like feasts & festivals. Also praying to stay faithful & praying for an Abishai help. Todah! Shalom!

  2. Angelika Walter

    Thank you for this wonderful encouraging article! Yes, I believe God has never abandoned the Jewish people, you were always and will always be beloved!

  3. VILMAR ALVES FARIAS

    Eu gosto muito do jeito que vocês explica.

  4. William James, PhD

    Julie, you have profound insight into the Old Testament! Most Christian Ministers spend very little time outside the New Testament except for Psalms and Proverbs.
    I also appreciate very much the inclusion of the Hebrew words and their meaning in your studies. It gives those who lack understanding of the original language much more insight.
    I too have Jewish Ydna which I learned only a few years ago even though I am now 84. Maybe that’s why I’ve always been drawn to Jewish people.

  5. Beth

    Hi Julia, An after thought — The whole of Psalm 103 is about our Wonderful Heavenly Father. There is the old saying “To thine ownself be true.” And this is what we can depend on with God, being true to His merciful nature.

  6. Beth

    Thank you Julia. It is a wonderful way to encourage and help many to understand the great Mercy of our LORD and God. Yes, I think we all have felt like that many a time. Praise God for crowning us with lovingkindness and tender mercies. (Psalm 103:4) Amen. God Bless.

  7. Marcia New

    Julia, thank you so much for this wonderful, personal insight into your heart and the hearts of the Israelis who still believe in God. I have loved Israel from the time I could read the Bible. Even though I’m a gentile (I do have a small part of Jewish DNA), I have always known that the Jewish people were God’s own heritage. With eyes to see, an unbiased person can see the Hand of God protecting you even in the midst of discipline.

  8. Dean

    All kinds of revelations, like the layers of an onion, including the aspect of Sukkot being the consummation of the bride and groom, “with joy shall you draw water from the well of salvation!” Never shall the bride and groom be separated again after this point. Dean Bryant. pawlbearer@gmail.com