You Shall Dwell In booths…

THE JOY OF RENEWED FELLOWSHIP  

As my readers probably know, the number 7 has always been regarded by the interpreters and commentators of the Torah, as the number of completeness. Therefore, the seventh month of the year, Tishrei, is indeed a very important month in God’s sacred calendar. It is full of the special solemn days, mo’adim, and I’ve already tried to express the beauty of Rosh HaShanah and the solemn atmosphere of Yom Kippur on these pages. Now, finally, we are approaching the last of the “solemn assemblies” of Tishrei, the Feast of Tabernacles. For me personally, this Feast has always stood out among  all the feasts of  God’s  sacred calendar; and I’m sure it is not just me, after all, it’s not by chance that in the Bible it is sometimes simply called “The Feast” (1 Kings 8:2) or “The Feast of the Lord” (Lev.23:39). Why? What is so special about Sukkot?

At first glance, there seems to be no reasonable explanation: usually, the Feasts of Israel  commemorate some  event which saved the Jewish people from grave danger that occurred on that particular date (such as Passover, Chanukah, or Purim), but nothing happened on the 15th of Tishrei that would explain the establishment of a holiday on this date. So what do we celebrate and why do we rejoice?

Sukkot starts almost immediately after the solemn and sober Days of Awe—the days of trembling and repentance. We finish the fast of Yom Kippur, and on the same night, we start building sukkot – tabernacles. Years ago, I lived in a house with a large common yard and I loved watching my religious neighbors rejoicing in erecting their sukkah in this yard on the evening right after Yom Kippur.

According to Jewish tradition, Moses came back with the second set of tablets on Yom Kippur. On Yom Kippur, God forgave His people after their terrible sin of the Golden Calf. However, it is only at Sukkot that God’s presence returned to abide among His people; it’s only at Sukkot that those Divine clouds covered the hand-made booths. This is the mystery and the joy of Sukkot – the mystery and the joy of God’s return and of renewed fellowship. That is why Sukkot is indeed the holiday of divine intimacy and divine presence; that is why Sukkot is the most joyous of the Biblical festivals: if Passover is called the “Season of our Liberation,” and Shavuot is called the “Season of the Giving of our Torah,” Sukkot is called zman simchateinu, the “Season of our Joy”—because God, in His mercy, came to tabernacle with His people!

BOOTHS OR CLOUDS?

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.’ ”[1]

In Jewish texts, we find two different approaches regarding the symbolism of sukkah. According to the first, a sukkah symbolizes the divine clouds that God protected His children with in the wilderness—the Clouds of Glory which miraculously surrounded the Jews for the forty years they spent in the desert. According to the second approach, the people of Israel actually built booths in the wilderness to protect themselves, and we are commanded to build sukkot in order to remember those sukkot in the wilderness we lived in when God took us out of Egypt (Leviticus 23:43). Are these two approaches mutually exclusive? Let us try to reconcile them.

The word “sukkah” can be related to the ancient root סכה, to see. Therefore, it might be understood as an allusion to the higher degree of spiritual sight acquired by Israel in the wilderness. Even though the Jewish people probably did build themselves little huts, in order to gain some safety and shelter in the desert, “they were also privileged to enjoy an even greater protection, one that surpassed not only booths but fortresses. Israel was enveloped by God’s Clouds of Glory. This was totally unlike the protection provided by steel and solid rock.”[2] Thus, in these two approaches, we can see a reflection of Israel’s twofold experience in the wilderness, both extremely difficult and extremely glorious—living in humble huts but lead and covered by God’s Glory!

THE FOUR SPECIES: THREE PLUS ONE

“And you shall take for yourselves on the first day the fruit of beautiful trees, branches of palm trees, the boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook; and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days. You shall keep it as a feast to the Lord for seven days in the year. It shall be a statute forever in your generations. You shall celebrate it in the seventh month”[3]

Torah commands us to take four species (ארבעת המינים arba’at ha-minim). In Leviticus 23:40 the Hebrew terms for the four plants are: 1) etz hadar (עֵץ הָדָר), which may be translated as “beautiful/splendid tree” or “citrus tree”; 2) t’mārîm (תְּמָרִים), palm trees; 3) etz-avot (עֵץ־עָבֹת), thick (leafy) trees and 4) arvey nahal  (עַרְבֵי נַחַל), willows of the brook. Today, the species are identified as:

  • Etrog  (אתרוג) – the fruit of a citron  tree
  • Lulav (לולב) – a branch  from a date palm  tree
  • Hadass  (הדס) – boughs with leaves from the myrtle  tree
  • Aravah  (ערבה) – branches with leaves from the willow  tree

In Jewish tradition, these Four Species represent the people of Israel.

The Etrog has both taste and fragrance – it represents Jews who possess both learning and good deeds.

The Lulav has taste (date) but no fragrance – it represents Jews who possess learning but not good deeds.

The Hadass has fragrance but no taste – it represents Jews who possess good deeds but not learning.

The Aravah has neither taste nor fragrance – it represents Jews who possess neither learning nor good deeds.

In Midrash we read: “God says: ‘Let them all be tied together in one band, and they will atone one for another.’”[4] Therefore, the Jews tie together these four species (in reality, we tie together three types of branches– lulav, willows and myrtle, leaving the etrog unbound but held close to the others) and wave them before God  during this joyful festival.

 

[1] Lev.23:42-43

[2] Succos,    Artscroll Mesorah Series, 2002, p.22

[3] Lev.23:40,41

[4] Vayikra Rabbah, 30

 

Excerpts from my books are included in this article  (and many other posts here), so if you like the  articles on this blog, you might enjoy also my books,  you  can get  them  from  my page:   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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Join the conversation (7 comments)

Leave a Reply

  1. Mustafa @ ITIKAT HALI

    Thank you for your effort. How to get more information about it

    1. Rahel

      Hello Mustafa,

      You can check out Julia’s posts from last year: https://blog.israelbiblicalstudies.com/category/jewish-studies/page/10/

      I also found an interesting article on OneForIsrael where they write about Sukkot and its connection to a wedding ceremony:
      https://www.oneforisrael.org/bible-based-teaching-from-israel/holidays/tabernacling-with-god-at-the-feast-of-sukkot/

      Have a blessed week

    2. Julia Blum

      In addition to what Rahel wrote, you can also check out the First Fruits of Zion site, they have a lot of information on Biblical holidays. For instance,
      https://ffoz.org/discover/sukkot/sukkot-and-the-early-believers.html

  2. yicong2018

    Good information! Thanks! Especially, the 4 plants representing 4 types of called people reflect till today; the “tied together in one band, and they will atone one for another” is very accordant with Jesus’ teachings: ’20Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; 21That they all may be ONE; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us'(John 17); and ’34A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. 35By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.’ (John 13)

    And so,

    1. Julia Blum

      You are right, of course we can find a lot of parallels between Jesus’ teaching and later Jewish tradition: after all, Jesus was Jewish and he expressed a lot of things that were still part of the oral tradition in his time, but were written down in Jewish texts much later: Mishna, the first major written collection of the Jewish oral traditions, was “sealed” by Judah the Prince only at the beginning of the third century.

  3. Jay Axtell

    Thank you for the detail and insight given for Sukkot. The ritual from the Midrash seems to show that even though Israel is in various places of devotion towards the things of ADONAI, His redemptive nature toward His people is an “all for one and one for all” package. Do you think the Midrash could be implying unknowingly that Yeshua’s closeness to His people would bring redemption to all Israel because He is their Sukkah?

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you, Jay. Not only this Midrash, but many Jewish texts see the redemption of Israel in this way. In this sense, when Paul writes that “all Israel will be saved”, he expresses a very Jewish belief. Of course, Paul and Midrash differ in their understanding of who would bring the redemption – but this “all for one and one for all” package, as you wrote, is relevant in both cases.