Sunday, September 30, 2012



For forty years, as our ancestors traversed the Sinai Desert, following the Exodus from Egypt, miraculous "clouds of glory" surrounded and hovered over them, shielding them from the dangers and discomforts of the desert. Ever since, we remember G-d's kindness and reaffirm our trust in His providence by dwelling in a sukkah--a hut of temporary construction with a roof covering of branches--for the duration of the Sukkot festival (on the Jewish calendar Tishrei 15-21). For seven days and nights, we eat all our meals in the sukkah and otherwise regard it as our home.

Another Sukkot observance is the taking of the Four Kinds: an etrog (citron), a lulav (palm frond), three hadassim (myrtle twigs) and two aravot (willow twigs). On each day of the festival (excepting Shabbat), we take the Four Kinds, recite a blessing over them, bring them together in our hands and wave them in all six directions: right, left, forward, up, down and backward. Our sages in the midrash tell us that the Four Kinds represent the various types and personalities that comprise the community of Israel, whose intrinsic unity we emphasize on Sukkot.

Sukkot is also called The Time of Our Joy; indeed, a special joy pervades the festival. nightly Water-Drawing Celebrations, reminiscent of the evening-to-dawn festivities held in the Holy Temple in preparation for the drawing of water for use in the festival service, fill the synagogues and streets with song, music and dance until the wee hours of the morning.

The seventh day of Sukkot is called Hoshanah Rabbah ("Great Salvation"). According to tradition, the verdict for the new year – which is written on Rosh Hashanah and sealed on Yom Kippur – is not handed down by the Heavenly Court until Hoshanah Rabbah. On this day we encircle the bimah (synagogue reading table) seven times while holding the Four Kinds and offering special prayers for prosperity during the upcoming year. During the course of the morning prayers it is also traditional to take a bundle of five willow branches and beat them against the ground five times.


The central element for the celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles is the booth we call the sukkah. While you may want to use the rabbinic description as a guideline , you should not forget the freedom to construct this booth as you see fit. As with all biblical holy days and customs, the sukkah is a "shadow" of the greater lessons of the coming Messiah (Colossians 2:17). 

 As previously noted, traditional Jews begin constructing the sukkah immediately after breaking the fast of Yom Kippur. Many Messianic Jews and Gentiles follow this custom by inviting people over for a "Sukkah Decorating Party," and planning for the upcoming holy day begins in earnest. 

 As mentioned before, the seventh day of the festival has much spiritual significance for believers in Yeshua (see John 7:37 and following verses). However, as we reach the eighth day, we come to a special holiday, Shmeni Atzeret (literally, the Eighth Day of Assembly). As mentioned in Leviticus 23:36, this day is to be set apart as a Shabbat and a holy assembly.

Most traditional synagogues and messianic congregations have special services to remember this time. Messianic Jews and Gentiles are continually looking for the higher spiritual lessons of God's appointed times. Why would God command a special memorial on the eighth day of Sukkot? Besides being the close of the festival, this day may contain a connection to the life of Messiah. If our theory that Yeshua's birth took place on the first day of Sukkot is correct, was there anything that took place on the eighth day? Any good Jewish parent could tell you! On that day, Jewish baby boys take the sign of the Abrahamic Covenant through circumcision (Genesis 17). So, too, with Yeshua.
On the eighth day, when it was time for his brit-milah, he was given the name Yeshua, which is what the angel had called him before his conception (Luke 2:21).
Believers in the Messiah have good cause to remember Shmeni Atzeret. Truly Yeshua "became a servant of the Jewish people in order to show God's truthfulness by making good his promises to the Patriarchs" (Romans 15:8).
If these festivities are not enough, the Jewish community has added an additional ninth day to Sukkot called Simchat Torah (Rejoicing in the Law). As it's name implies, this day celebrates the revelation of God as symbolized in the Torah scroll. It is a time of tremendous joy, with dancing and lively music. 

A central part of the service is the reading from the last chapters of Deuteronomy and the start of the yearly cycle all over again with the first chapters of Genesis. Although this holiday was created in the Middle Ages by rabbinic Judaism, believers in Yeshua can surely affirm the idea behind it. God's Word is good. It is to be revered. It is even to be joyously celebrated! How much more so for followers of Yeshua Ha Mashiach, the Word who became flesh at this time of year!

With the close of Simchat Torah, we reach the end of the high holy day season. What wonderful truth is evident! What a complete picture of the latter-day plan of God for this world. Sometime soon the shofar will sound to announce the regathering of believers. This is to be followed by the solemn Day of Atonement when Yeshua will return for a second time to the earth. This, in turn, will lead all believers into that joyful celebration of the Kingdom of God at Sukkot! May we be ready to dwell in that holy habitation of our heavenly father.