A New Look at the Feast of Tabernacles
The Secrets of the Sukkah!
What is the real meaning behind the "Sukkah" or "booth"
connected with the Feast of Tabernacles? What is the awe-
some lesson God intends for us to learn from it? Why do
most all of the modern churches that "keep" the Feast totally
ignore the "sukkah"? It's time you understood this vitally
important matter! What God commands, men should not just
ignore! Vital spiritual understanding and growth are at stake!
William F. Dankenbring
I noticed one year recently that a group of former Worldwide Church of God members conducted their own Feast of Tabernacles, and advertised it with the slogan, "NO PREACHING," no sermons, no ministers -- just fellowship and discussion! What an idea! Just "do your own thing" without any ministers, or ministerial authority, to bother with!
But is this concept really
Biblical? It reminds me of the book of
Judges, were we read of the bloodiest chapter of ancient Israeli history: "In those days there was no king [i.e.,
"authority" figure] in
The Festival of "Booths"
We read in Leviticus 23 concerning the Feast of Tabernacles, the following statements:
"And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children
feast of tabernacles for seven days unto the LORD. On the first day
shall be an holy convocation: ye shall do no servile work therein.
Seven days ye shall offer an offering made by fire unto the LORD:
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;
and ye shall do no servile work therein" (Lev.23:33-36).
Notice that a "holy convocation" was commanded on the first day and the eighth day -- that is, a "commanded assembly." These assemblies were for the purpose of group worship, instruction by the spiritual leaders, and reading and expounding the Word of God. Those who were proficient and learned in the Scriptures were generally the rabbis and Levites.
In the days of Ezra and Nehemiah, we read that on God's Holy Day, in this case, on the Feast of Trumpets (Rosh Hashanah), that:
"And Ezra the scribe stood upon a pulpit of wood, which they had
made for the purpose . . . And Ezra opened the book [of the Law]
in the sight of all the people . . . And Jeshua, and Bani, and Sherebiah,
Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodijab, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah,
Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, and the Levites, caused the people to under-
stand the law: and the people stood in their place. So they read in the
book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them
to understand the reading" (Nehemiah 8:4-8).
Obviously, God intended the spiritual leaders to preach His Word to the assembled people on the Holy Days, at the commanded assemblies, and to lead in the worship services.
Additional instruction in observing God's festival of Tabernacles is given in verses 39-43 of this Leviticus 23 -- verses which have generally been ignored and overlooked, and never explained. Notice what these verses add to the festival commandment!
"Also in the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when ye have gathered
in the fruit of the land, ye shall keep a feast unto the LORD seven days:
on the first day shall be a sabbath, and on the eighth day shall be a sabbath.
And ye shall take on the first day the boughs of goodly trees, branches
of palm trees, and willows of the brook; and ye shall REJOICE before
the LORD your God seven days. And ye shall keep it a feast unto the
LORD seven days in the year. It shall be a STATUTE FOR EVER in
your generations: ye shall celebrate it in the seventh month. Ye shall
DWELL IN BOOTHS SEVEN DAYS; all that are Israelite 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 thy God" (Lev.23:39-43).
Notice that this commandment to celebrate the Feast of Sukkot, and to "dwell" in booths -- temporary huts built for use during the Festival -- was "A STATUTE FOR EVER in your generations"!
In the 30 years I observed the Feast of Tabernacles in the Worldwide Church of God, from 1958 to 1987, we were never told about the command to take boughs of goodly trees, branches of palm trees, and willows of the brook, and to use them in rejoicing before the LORD; nor were we told how the Feast of Tabernacles relates to the journey of the Israelites as they came out of Egypt, and dwelt in the wilderness for forty years, living in "booths" or temporary structures, or tent-like portable dwellings. This aspect of the Feast was totally overlooked! And yet -- it was commanded as a "STATUTE FOR EVER"! Amazing, isn't it! How have so many so-called churches of God overlooked this PLAIN Biblical COMMAND?
In the Time of Nehemiah
In the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, we read, "They kept also the Feast of tabernacles, as it is written, and offered the daily burnt offerings by number according to the custom, as the duty of every day required" (Ezra 3:4).
This observance occurred after the return of many Jews from Babylon back to Jerusalem and the land of Israel. Ezra, a righteous scribe of God, gathered the people and read to them from the law of God (Nehemiah 8:1-8) on the first day of Tishri, or the Feast of Trumpets (Ezra 8:2). On the next day, as the people were gathered to learn more of the laws of God,
"they found written in the law which the LORD had commanded by
Moses, that the children of Israel should dwell in booths in the feast of
the seventh month: And that they should proclaim in all their cities,
and in Jerusalem, saying, Go forth unto the mount, and fetch olive
branches, and pine branches, and myrtle branches, and palm branches,
and branches of thick trees, to make booths, as it is written. So the
people went forth, and brought them, and made themselves booths,
every one upon the roof of his house, and in their courts, and in the
courts of the house of God, and in the street of the water gate, and in
the street of the gate of Ephraim. And all the congregation of them
that were come again out of the captivity made booths, and sat under
the booths: for since the days of Joshua the son of Nun unto that day
had not the children of Israel done so. And there was very great
gladness. Also day by day, from the first day unto the last day, he read
in the book of the law of God. And they kept the feast seven days;
and on the eighth day was a solemn assembly, according to the
Here again the Feast of Tabernacles is described -- and the statement is made that the festival had not been observed in this manner, with the construction of booths, since the days of Joshua himself! Truly, in the days of Ezra, there was a turning back to observe the laws of God among the people, and much more attention was given to proper and correct observance.
Nevertheless, many of these features of the Feast, as observed in modern times, have also been neglected by thousands of God's people.
How many literally build "booths" to sit in, to hold discussions, to pray, meditate, and to fellowship in?
How many use the branches of various kinds of trees to construct a "sukkah" or "booth"? Should we follow this example today, in celebrating God's Feast of Tabernacles ("Sukkot")?
Is this a commandment for all genuine Christians and ALL God's people?
Testimony from Josephus
The Jewish historian Josephus, writing during the first century of the present era, a Pharisee and a priest, as well as Jewish historian and general in the military, writes in Antiquities of the Jews about the law of God concerning the Feast of Tabernacles, and the "booths" that were made for the Feast:
"Upon the fifteenth day of the same month [Tishri, the seventh month], when the
season of the year is changing for winter, the law enjoins us to PITCH TABERNA-
CLES in every one of our houses, so that we preserve ourselves from the cold of that
time of the year; as also that when we should arrive at our own country, and come to
that city that we should have then for our metropolis, because of the temple therein
to be built, and keep a festival for eight days. . . . And this is the accustomed solemnity
of the Hebrews, WHEN THEY PITCH THEIR TABERNACLES" (Antiqities, Bk.3,
chapter 10, sec.4).
What was this command enjoined by the law to "pitch tabernacles"? What did it mean?
Says E. P. Sanders in Judaism Practice & Belief 63 BCE-66 CE:
"The Feast of Booths (Heb., Sukkot) or Tabernacles is an autuumn festival that begins
five days after the Day of Atonement. For seven days 'all that are native in Israel shall
dwell in booths' (Lev.23:42). A festival day (when work was prohibited) was added
(Lev.23:33-36), in effect extending the festal period to eight days.
"The booths were made of 'branches of olive, wild olive, myrtle, palm, and other leafy
trees' (Neh.8:15). People who lived in Jerusalem probably built the booths on the roofs
of their houses, while pilgrims built them outside the walls [of the city]. According to
Josephus, the festival was "observed with special care" (Anti.15), and it is probable that
most families built booths. One may imagine that children were especially enthusiastic
in gathering branches and tying them together to make a booth" (p.139).
Let's notice the original commandment as it is given in the book of the Law.
The Command to Dwell in Booths
God's Word specifically links the Feast of Tabernacles, or "Booths," with the harvest ("Ingathering"), and with the journey of the Israelites out of Egypt, when they traveled in "temporary shelters" or "booths." These "booths" themselves are also linked with the harvest. They are the central focus of this Feast of God, literally called the Ha Hag Sukkot, that is, the Feast of Sukkot.
Alfred Edersheim in The Temple: Its Ministry and Services, tells us: "Three things specially marked the Feast of Tabernacles: its joyous festivities, the dwelling in 'booths,' and the peculiar sacrifices and rites of the week" (p.215). Regarding the booths, Edersheim says:
". . . . For its second characteristic was, that during the seven days of its continuance
'all that are Israelite 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' (Lev.23:42,43)" (Edersheim, p.215-216).
"The Mishnah [Oral Law written down in the centuries after Christ] gives most minute
details as to the height and construction of these 'booths,' the main object being to
prevent any invasion of the law. Thus it must be a real booth, and constructed of boughs
of living trees, and solely for the purpose of this festival. Hence it must be high enough,
yet not too high -- at least ten handbreadths, but not more than thirty feet . . ." (p.216).
In The Jewish Holidays, A Guide and Commentary, by Michael Strassfeld, the importance of the "sukkah" is stressed. He writes:
"The most important ritual of Sukkot (hence the name) is living in a sukkah. The
sukkah is a temporary structure usually constructed of four walls and covered with
a roof of tree branches. We eat in the sukkah and some people sleep in it as well.
The sukkah is constructed before the holiday, usually between Yom Kippur and
Sukkot, and it is used for the first time on Sukkot Eve. . . .
"The sukkah must be a temporary structure, not a permanent one. This is to remind
us of the portability of the huts in the desert as the Israelites wandered from place
to place for forty years. It also stresses one of the themes of the holiday -- the
impermanence of our lives. . . .
"We are encouraged to study, read, and talk in the sukkah, but only if it can be done
comfortably. There is a general principle that you should rejoice in the sukkah, not
suffer in it. . ." (p.126-127).
The Essence of the Holy Days, by Avraham Yaakov Finkel, tells us further:
"In the autumn of the year, after the harvest has been gathered, when a man's thoughts
tend to focus on the rich profits he has garnered, and his dreams of acquiring mansions
and estates, the Torah tells the Jew to build a sukkah, to exchange his solid home for
a frail, makeshift dwelling. The sukkah is a reminder of the huts in which God made
the children of Israel live during their forty-year journey through the wilderness and of
the Clouds of Glory that protected them on their wanderings. As a Jew sits in the sukkah,
under the shelter of the s'chach, surrounded by family and friends, he cannot help but
feel God's sheltering Hand enveloping him. His spirit soars as he realizes that material
possessions offer no security, and that the shield of faith is the only protection he can
rely on" (p.79-80).
The first lesson of the sukkah is the lesson of God's Presence and sheltering Hand. The sukkah reminds us of our total and complete dependence on God throughout our lives, and our need for His divine Presence on a continual basis.
The First Secret of the Sukkah
In Celebrate the Feasts, Martha Zimmerman points out that "Sukkot" was the name of a city or town -- and was the first "stopping off" place for the Israelites as they left the land of Egypt (Exo.12:37). We also read of a place named "Succoth" in Canaan. This was the city where, we read, "And Jacob journeyed to Succoth; and built for himself a house, and made booths [sukkot] for his livestock, therefore the place is named Succoth" (Gen.33:17). Today, we might refer to such a city as "Booth City" or "City of Booths," or "City of Shelters."
Why does God command that we build make-shift, fragile, temporary "booths" or "huts" during the Feast? What is the lesson in this? There is a very special, deep, and profoundly meaningful lesson in the sukkah. Notice!
Martha Zimmerman writes:
"While the Israelites were wandering the desert with nothing -- not even the ability
to provide for their own basic needs -- they had to recognize and rely on God as the
means of their survival. He provided manna for food (Exo.16:4-16), clouds for
shelter (Exodus 33:4-17; Numbers 9:15-23), water to drink (Exodus 15:22-25; 17:5-7;
Num.20:7-12), and conditions to prevent their clothing from deteriorating (Deut.29:5).
His sukkot -- protection -- inspired in them the faith that they would reach the designated
Land, as promised.
"Once they arrived, they planted and harvested foodstuffs, built houses, dug wells, and
wove and sewed garments. But they were not to then feel that they were self-sufficient.
All they created and enjoyed, while developed through their own efforts, was no less
provided by God than the desert sustenance had been. Though much more obvious in
times of want, the booths they lived in for a week each year were reminders of how they
began, and that regardless of their state, whatever they had came from the Supreme Pro-
vider and Protector. As Torah warned when this was readily recognized, 'When you later
have prosperity, be careful that you do not say to yourself, "It was my own strength and
personal power that brought me all this." You must remember that it is God your Lord
Who gives you the power to become prosperous' (Deuteronomy 8:17-18)" (Celebrate the
The lesson of the "sukkah" is that God is our true eternal shelter. His protection and providence is a daily need for each one of us. He is the canopy over our heads, and our true protection from the vicissitudes of life. God is our Protector.
True protection does not come from four walls, whether they are concrete or wood, or steel-reinforced. The solid walls of the homes of the Jews in Germany or the Warsaw ghetto did not protect them from the ravages of Nazi persecution and Hitler's death camps. In one moment, fire, flood, hurricane, or tornado can rip apart a solidly built construction, and deal death to its inhabitants.
Zimmerman goes on:
"It was an important lesson. Generations after the Israelite settled the Land,
their 'permanent' homes were destroyed because they failed to keep the conditions
of the covenant . . . and they again became homeless wanderers. The shelter they
'owned,' wherever in the world they went, was the feeling of protection, a belief
in God's guardianship that provided a sense of security much stronger and much
more durable than any tangible structure. . . .
"Likewise, living in a sukkah today teaches us that the firmest foundation is not
cinder block or stone but faith in God. Did a wall ever stop a Crusader, or Cossak?
Is real security sitting shut up in a house, insulated from problems around you -- like
the Jews of South Africa today, behind barbed wire and walls guarded by killer dogs?
In one instant, fire, flood, earthquake or hurricane can destroy what we think of as
shelter. Despite barbed windows, deadbolted doors, and alarm systems, intruders can
enter our homes and walk out with all our valuables -- including our lives. At best,
the roofs over our heads and walls around us are temporary physical safeguards.
"When we realize how transient material possessions are, how fragile life situations
can be, we gain a profound appreciation for whatever we have received and how much
we owe for those blessings. . . .
"A Jew, with blessings for every aspect of life, is someone constantly aware of God's
role and grateful for what He provides and, whether viewing it as good or bad, believing
it is ultimately for the best. In the sukkah, sitting under its airy branches of s'khakh (its
covering), we look (sahkah) up and out, 'seeing' God's provision for us, a model for
our own responsibilities in the world" (p.216-217).
True security comes only from God in heaven.
Therefore, the sukkah built during the Feast of Tabernacles is to remind us of the true "sukkah" of God's protection, and our dependence and reliance upon Him for safety and survival. God delivered His people from Egypt in fragile, flimsy, sukkahs (literally, sukkot -- the Hebrew plural), built of branches of trees and leafy boughs -- teaching us and reminding us of the transitory fragility of human life, and how utterly dependent we truly are upon the living God.
God's Sukkah -- Our Divine Shelter
Mitch and Zhava Glaser in The Fall Feasts of Israel declare:
"The impermanent, vulnerable, leafy shelters were to remind the Israelites of God's
faithfulness during their forty years of wandering in the desert. The booths symbolized
man's need to depend on God for His provision of food, water and shelter. . .
"In ancient Israel, booths were in common use throughout the land. The Hebrew word
sukkah originally meant 'woven.' Temporary shelters were woven together from branches
and leaves to protect livestock (Gen.33:17), to provide resting places for warriors during
battle (II Samuel 11:11), to shelter watchers in the vineyard (Isaiah 1:8), and to protect
the people from the incessant heat of the merciless Middle-Eastern sun. During harvest
time, Israelite fields were dotted with such booths, woven hastily together as temporary
homes for the harvesters" (p.157).
Rabbi Irving Greenberg declares in his fascinating book The Jewish Way:
"The sukkah, the booth, is the central symbol of the ancient Israelites' trust and hope
for forty years in the desert. The Hebrews left the protection of man-made thick walls
to place themselves under the protection of God. Exposed to dangerous natural conditions
and hostile roving bands, they placed their confidence in the divine concern, which is
the only true source of security. . . .
"The halachic requirements for the construction of a sukkah attempt to capture the
fragility and openness of the booths. . . By deliberately giving up solid construction,
Jews admit their vulnerability and testify that the ultimate trust is in the DIVINE shelter
[that is, in God Himself]" (p.99).
The Sukkah -- A Symbol of Faith
Avraham Yaakov Finkel in The Essence of the Holy Days: Insights from the Jewish Sages, tells us more about the sukkah experience. He relates --
"The sukkah is a reminder of the huts in which God made the children of Israel
live during their forty-year journey through the wilderness and of the Clouds of
Glory that protected them on their wanderings. As a Jew sits in the sukkah, under
the shelter of the s'chach [roof], surrounded by family and friends, he cannot help
but feel God's sheltering Hand enveloping him. His spirit soars as he realizes that
true happiness is found only in the eternal values of Torah and mitzvot, that material
possessions offer no security, and that THE SHIELD OF FAITH is the only protection
he can rely on. He is aware that, like his stay in the sukkah, life on earth is unstable
and transitory. Gazing at the stars shimmering through the greenery of the s'chach,
he experiences a closeness to God that is almost palpable. This nearness to God is the
source of his simchah, the exhilarating gladness that is the hallmark of Sukkot" (p.80).
The primary purpose of building the Sukkah during the Feast of Sukkot, and to "dwell" in it, is to teach us the lesson of LIVING BY FAITH -- faith in God as our shield, guardian, protector, sustainer, and provider! He is the God who both sees and comprehends our situation, our needs, our utter and complete dependence upon Him! Literally, in the Hebrew to "dwell" in the sukkah means to "sit" in it. To spend time in it, meditating on God and His Providence!
In The Jewish Holy Days: Their Spiritual Significance, by Moshe A. Braun, we are told that God spreads over us His sukkah of peace.
"The sukkah is God's refuge. It brings us back to fulfillment, wholesomeness,
harmony, and peace, all of which are found in God. God is the fountainhead
of all the good that exists in the world. He also placed in each of us a drop from
that holy fountain. Though only a mere drop, it is still infinite as the fountain
itself. . . .
"What happens when a man errs or sins? He blocks the holiness of his soul from
purifying all his parts. . . .
"Similarly, when we go astray and do sinful acts, we block the life-giving waters
from our spiritual wellsprings. The outer edges of our being dry up and wither.
If we continue on the path of falsehood, we block the waters at our very roots,
and we totally wither away.
"Then God sees our sorrowful state and helps us experience an encounter with
Him. The intensity of this closeness breaks through all barriers and clears all the
debris strewn in the path of the 'spring of life.' We are then alive once more. We
have returned to God and to His refuge. This occurs in the days of Rosh Hashana
and Yom Kippur. As it is written, 'Peace to those who are far, and those who are
near' (Isaiah 57:19). Thus, peace is experienced when the soul revitalizes our
"The arrogant evildoers do not allow their debris to be cleared, and they remain
cut off from their source of life. As it is written, 'And the evildoers are as the
tumultuous sea' (Isaiah 57:20). They cannot experience tranquility and peace.
"Therefore, after God opens our wellsprings on Yom Kippur, we are reconnected
to our roots and source of life. We go directly into the 'sukkah of peace.' When
we sit in the sukkah, we can open our hearts to the spring of life that bubbles forth
from us. We can revitalize every cell in our body, every utterance of our speech,
and every concept and image of our thoughts. In the sukkah we can experience
harmony and peace, coming from the infinite roots of our Creator" (p.100).
The sukkah experience, therefore, is a powerful tool to "reconnect with God," to draw close to Him, and to abide with Him -- to rest with Him. It is a powerful image, and a powerful truth. Our thoughts and our being can become purified as we obey God's command to "dwell" in the sukkah for the seven-day period of the Feast!
It is a great time to spend meditating and thinking on the things of God, drawing closer to Him in palpable ways, with heightened senses, with great joy and inner peace.
As God said to Joshua, "This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt mediate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success. Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the LORD thy God is with thee, whithersoever
thou goest" (Joshua 1:8-9).
Paul also declared: "Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice. Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. Be careful [anxious] for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God which passeth understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus."
Paul went on, "Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things" (Phil.4:4-8).
Doing this kind of thinking, and meditating, in the sukkah, is a profound and incredibly wonderful spiritual experience! Don't miss out on it! Too many people are thinking negatively these days, finding fault, criticizing, impugning motives, thinking the worst of others, and becoming very negative and full of doubts and spiritual gangrene as a result of this kind of wicked and evil thinking. "As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he," says one of the Proverbs of Solomon (Pro.23:7).
But in the sukkah of God, the sukkah of peace, you can find true peace of mind -- the very peace of Jesus Christ. As Christ said, "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light" (Matt.11:28-30).
The apostle Paul adds, "Meditate upon these things; give yourself wholly unto them; that thy profiting may appear unto all. Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt save both thyself, and them that hear thee" (I Tim.4:15-16).
The Shelter of Faith
The sukkah is referred to as the "SHELTER OF FAITH" in the Ohel Torah. Finkel quotes the Kotzker rabbi:
"The sukkah is called tzila dimehemenuta, the shelter of faith. It teaches you to leave
behind all your worldly concerns and to dedicate yourself to God with total self-effacing
faith in His mercy and compassion. If you have attained this level of self-negating faith,
you feel no pain or discomfort. That is why a person who feels discomfort is exempt
from the mitzvah of eating in the sukkah. Feeling discomfort proves that he has not
reached the point of total self-nullification.
"Because he has not grasped the meaning of the sukkah, any further stay there is
of no benefit to him. Therefore, he is exempt from the obligation" (p.83).
Rabbi Chanoch of Alexander, in the Zohar, points out that the sukkah is also looked upon as the "shade of faith." This is because the walls and roof of the sukkah are so fragile and impermanent and unstable and precarious, that it expresses our complete and total dependence on God, and our boundless trust in His protection.
The Secret of "Change"
Joel Ziff in Mirrors in Time, describes the "sukkah" in terms of "change" in our lives. He shows how the experience of the "sukkah" leads to our changing, and transformation, as human beings. He asserts:
"For the Israelites in the desert, the sukkah provided a new home after they left
slavery in Egypt. The sukkah links us to that arche-typal experience of CHANGE.
In this spirit, we begin to build the sukkah immediately after the end of Yom Kippur.
We move out of the permanent shelter which we habitually regard as home. We
move into a new home and establish it as a center for the activities of daily life . . .
We set aside a full week for prayer, celebration, and community.
"In some respects, the image of the sukkah evokes the wandering in the desert
associated with the counting of the omer. However, there are significant differences.
After Pesach, we are thrust into an alien environment; we are confused and dependent. . .
On Sukkot, we experience our competence, autonomy, and power as we build our own
shelter. Our joy is built on a solid foundation as we celebrate our achievements. The
image of the sukkah as a symbol of CHANGE helps us become aware of how we have
been TRANSFORMED as a result of the process of self-reflection which has just been
Says Joel Ziff, "We not only change, but we also enjoy the change. The rituals [of Sukkot] emphasize sensual pleasure and enjoyment. They are performed with a focus on joy and celebration. We are encouraged to select a lulav and etrog which are especially beautiful so as to enhance our pleasure" (ibid.).
Ziff goes on, showing how the Feast of Sukkot relates to "change":
"The experience of joy and celebration on Sukkot helps us discover and express our
own positive feelings. In the process of self-development, it is important not only that
we change; we must also experience those changes as positive, pleasurable, and satis-
fying. As we change our coping responses, we also experience a change in the results.
We are better able to resolve the problem that previously overwhelmed or frustrated
us. Our self-confidence and self-esteem is enhanced because we feel more power and
competence as well as the satisfaction of being able to make changes and take more
control of our lives. The pleasure and satisfaction we feel reinforces our commitment
to the process and enhances our motivation and our energy. This joy is more mature and
dependable than the joy we experience at the time of liberation from slavery or the giving
of the Torah because it is grounded in the reality of human failure and the capacity to
learn from our mistakes" (p.237).
Thus, the Feast of Sukkot pictures our moving from faithlessness to believing, from joyless to being joy-filled, from spiritual shakiness to spiritual strength, solid confidence and security. The Feast of Sukkot is a time to solidify and strengthen the spiritual CHANGES that God is working in our nature -- putting on the New Man in Christ, and putting off the Old Man with the lusts and sins of the flesh!
Sukkot: Reenactment of the Sinai Journey
The sukkah is the central symbol of the "Feast of Tabernacles" or "Sukkot." It pictures the hope, trust and reliance upon God of the Israelites for forty long years in the wilderness. By living in the sukkah for forty years, they placed their faith in the divine hand of God. He was their support and their continual source of security. During their wilderness trek, we read:
"And thou shalt remember all the way which the LORD thy God
led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to
prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest
keep his commandments, or no. And he humbled thee, and suffered
thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not,
neither did thy fathers know; that he might make thee know that man
doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of
the mouth of the LORD doth man live.
"Thy raiment waxed not old upon thee, neither did thy foot swell, these
forty years" (Deut.8:2-4).
God took care of His people; He provided for them. But He also tested and proved them, to see if they would keep His commandments, despite trials and adversities!
The Secret of Vulnerability
Writes Irving Greenberg in The Jewish Way,
"The halachic requirements for the construction of a sukkah attempt to capture the
fragility and openness of the booths. The sukkah may not be too impressive a home;
its total height may not exceed twenty cubits [30 feet] -- about ten yards. Nor may
it be lower than what is reasonably high enough to enter and live in, that is, ten
handbreadths or forty inches. Similarly the sukkah should be built well enough to
withstand normal winds but not so solidly that it withstands winds of unusual force.
By deliberately giving up solid construction, Jews admit their vulnerability and
testify that the ultimate trust is in the divine shelter."
Greenberg goes on, expanding on the construction of the sukkah:
"The most important part of the Sukkah, halachically, is the s'chach, materials of
vegetable origin such as evergreen branches or marsh rushes that form the roof. For
support, these coverings may be laid across wooden slats or bamboo poles; heavy
boards or beams that offer solid support should not be used, nor should any of the
roof materials be nailed down permanently. Though completely covering the top,
the materials should be loosely spread so as to be open to the perfect expression
of divine protection. God is not a mechanical shield that protects from all evil;
God is the Presence who gives the strength to persevere, to overcome.
"The fragility of the sukkah borders on the playful. What is the minimum sukkah
one can build? It need not have four walls, that is, be fully enclosed. The minimum
is two walls plus part of a third. . .
"The sukkah is meant to teach something about the true nature of protection. Human
beings instinctively strive to build solid walls of security. People shut out life; they
heap up treasures and power and status symbols in the hope of excluding death and
disaster and even the unexpected. The search for solid security all too often leads to
idolatry, to the worship of things that give security. People end up sacrificing values
and even loved ones to obtain the tangible sources of security. The sukkah urges
people to give up this pseudo-safety" (Greenberg, p.99-100).
The Secret of "Sukkah Consciousness"
Says Greenberg, "Often self-deception and the desire to claim permanent roots led Jews to deny what was happening until it was too late to escape" (p.101). We could have the same problem, ourselves, in our modern lives -- living too close to the "present," and refusing to face or being blind to the serious problems happening all around us -- so that we are not ready when the time comes to escape!
He adds a lesson we should all heed carefully: "The precious capacity not to deceive oneself when change takes place is made possible by sukkah consciousness."
Living and dwelling -- that is, "sitting" -- in a home-made, makeshift, fragile sukkah for seven days, during the Feast of Tabernacles, drives home the lesson of our own fragile impermanence, our own human frailty, and our need -- our desperate need -- for the protection of God in our lives. It also helps us to remain vigilant -- aware -- and undeceived as to the "permanence" of our surroundings, or the lack of real permanence in our illusion-filled lives. The sukkah helps give us the power and insight to avoid deception -- spiritual deception and physical deception.
We are living in times of incredible great deception. Many are falling away from God's truth. I have never seen so many fall away so quickly, and seemingly so easily and painlessly, in all my forty plus years in God's Church!
The apostle Paul warned, "This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come" (II Tim.3:1), and "there would be men "ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth" (v.7), but would be "evil men and seducers" who "shall wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived" (v.13). He warned also, that some in God's true Church would even fall away -- "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine . . . And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall turn unto fables" (II Tim.4:3-4).
The deception would be SO BAD, Christ declared, that, "There shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. Behold, I have told you [warned you] before [in advance!]" (Matt.24:24-25).
But the sukkah protection of God will safeguard His true people, who obey His commandments, and who "dwell" in the sukkah during the Feast of Sukkot!
The Secret of "Portable, Mobile Faith"
The sukkah also teaches us that our "faith" must be "portable." It must not be rooted in the around, but in God who is everywhere, and everywhere able to protect us.
As David wrote, "Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me. If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me. Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to thee" (Psalm 139:7-12).
God is indeed everywhere. We are never out of His sight, or out of His grasp. He is always able to save us, to deliver us, to lift us out of danger or trouble. We should trust in Him no matter where we are, or what our circumstances. Nothing is too difficult for Him!
Says Irving Greenberg:
"Mobility undercuts idolatry. Wandering weakens fixed categories, challenging the
belief that there is a measurable way to program (read: control) divine behavior. . . .
"As Jews moved into exile, they understood what the sukkah had always taught them:
God is not fixed; God is everywhere. One can go elsewhere and find God present there.
After the Exodus, Israel went into the desert to meet its Lord. Later, the favor was
returned by God, who went with them into exile, into the travail of history. Jews
learned that the Sheckinah (Divine Presence) is with them in eras of wandering as well
as during the triumphant return to the Holy Land. . .
"The sukkah taught Jews that they could root deeply into particular cultures but that
their faith was portable. . . . Then the sukkah reminded them to push on. There were
miles to go, further along the Exodus way, and promises to keep -- until the whole
world becomes a Promised Land" (Greenberg, The Jewish Way, p.102-103).
How To Make A Sukkah
Granted that we should make a sukkah, then, to properly celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles, where and how should we do so?
The "where" is simple enough. Most of us can make one in our own back yard. Some people who have flat roofs, can make one on their roof. In some cases, we can make one in a park, or camping ground. Once made, we should spend some time in it -- "dwell" in it -- during the Feast of Tabernacles. Having built a sukkah in one's back yard, and fellowshipping and entertaining friends and family in and around it, with beverages, wine, fruit juice, snacks, and food, is a most enjoyable pastime during the Feast of Tabernacles.
"Building can involve the whole family. Over the years people have shown great
imagination in both construction and decoration of the sukkah. For those less handy,
there are reasonable and attractive pre-fabricated models with easy directions for
putting them together. Many prefabs come complete with bamboo stick s'chach. If
there is no forest in your area, evergreen or perishable s'chach can be purchased from
a nursery or landscape contractor. An evergreen roof will add welcome fragrance to
the sukkah. When gathering s'chach from local forest or riverbank areas, one must be
sure not to destroy public property and not to take s'chach belonging to a private
person without permission. Jewish law rules that a mitzvah is not validly performed
if goods used in its performance are stolen" (The Jewish Way, p.104).
Sukkah building can be great fun, and should involve the entire family! If your church or local fellowship group can make a sukkah for your group, that would be wonderful!
It is an experience you will never forget -- a true spiritual "high" can be experienced when we obey God's simplest commandments!
More insight into the basic rules of sukkah building are provided by Leslie Koppelman Ross in the book, Celebrate! The Complete Jewish Holiday Handbook:
"Although there are regulations regarding the minimum size, maximum height, and
acceptable dimensions for its walls, the element that makes a sukkah more than an
agricultural shed is its 'roof': a canopy made from stalks or branches arranged to provide
more shade than sunlight and allow you to see the stars through it. In other words, it
is something that originally grew from the earth through which we can look up and see
heaven. In fact, the word sukkah is derived from the word for the roof -- s'khakh, mean-
ing 'covering' -- indicating the most important element of the structure. It's a reminder
that during the Israelites' forty years of wandering, God 'covered' all their needs. . . .
"It is a mitzvah for every Jew to participate in building and decorating a sukkah. (A
sukkah decorating party for the immediate family, or for an extended group including
friends, is a great way to get into the spirit of the holiday" (p.221).
How can you make a sukkah for your own home? Here's the answer! Just do it! Gather together enough building materials, rope, twine, safety pins, branches from trees, palm trees, banana trees, and leafy plants from your own back yard, or from other people's yards (with permission, of course).
"You can use just about any materials to make the walls: cinder blocks, scrap lumber,
old doors, bamboo shades, canvass or nylon sheeting attached to a frame of wood or
metal piping [try PVC pipe -- it is easy to use!] with nails or grommets and rope.
"Beams can be placed across the top to support the s'khakh. In Israel, authorities trim
the palm trees in time for the holiday and leave the branches in piles on the streets for
people to take home. In this country, parks departments often oblige with the by-
products of fall pruning. If you cannot obtain leafy branches, bamboo, straw, reeds,
and thin boards may be used.
"Our enjoyment of the mitzvah is enhanced when we consider its aesthetics, so it is
appropriate to make the sukkah as beautiful as possible. Gourds, fruits, birds made
from hollowed egg shells, cranberry garlands, popcorn strands and paper chains,
pictures and wall tapestries, along with representations of the seven species
that grow in Israel (wheat, barley, grape, fig, date, pomegranate, olive), are
all traditional. . . .
"Pre-fab sukkot are available through Jewish book stores and sometimes syna-
gogues. . . ." (p.220-221).
One of the best materials you can use is PVC plastic pipe (solid 3/4 inch is good, with proper fittings, which can be obtained at a local plumbing or Home Depo type store. Once you put the framework together, using enough PVC to make three and one half sides (leaving room for an entrance in one side), you can cover the walls with white sheets, drapes, rugs, tapestries, and then decorate them with balloons, crafts, pictures drawn of the harvest season, and any number of ideas. Place a small table inside, a few chairs, and place a dish of fruits, apples, oranges, a pumpkin or two, grapes, raisins, and cookies, for entertaining guests and friends, on the table.
You can also obtain a "lulav" from a local Jewish store, or through a local synagogue, or obtain a telephone number to order one from a Jewish supplier -- or you can make your own, for rejoicing before the Lord. (See our article on the "Mystery of the Lulav.")
When you enter the sukkah each day, you should recite the "Blessing of the Sukkah," which goes like this:
Blessing of the Sukkah
"Baruch Attah Adonai, Melek Ha Olam,
Asher Kidshanu B'Mitzvotav,
V'tzivanu Leisheiv Basukkah.
"Blessed Are You, O Lord, King of the Universe,
Who Has Sanctified Us by His Commandments,
and Commanded Us to Dwell in the Sukkah."
Let's recite the "blessing" of the Sukkah -- and then enter your Sukkah and commune with God, our Father, and reflect on the tremendous and deep meaning of this wonderful Feast of Tabernacles, as you have never done before -- in peace, and happiness, sitting in our sukkah, under God's divine protection, and in His divine Presence. And, this coming Feast of Tabernacles, really enjoy your "sukkah" experience, as you spend seven days in unique and wonderful fellowship with Almighty God, and His Son, Jesus Christ -- Yeshua the Messiah!
The Feast of Booths in the Millennium
The day is soon coming when the entire world --all nations -- will observe the Feast of Tabernacles, or booths, as God commanded. They will come up to Jerusalem, and make fragile, flimsy booths, and dwell in them for seven days, during the Feast.
The prophet Zechariah foretells that after the return of the Messiah, to put down all rebellion around the world, and to inaugurate the Kingdom of God on the earth, a startling thing will happen. Notice!
"And every one that is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall
even go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, AND TO
KEEP THE FEAST OF TABERNACLES OR BOOTHS. And it shall be, that
whoso of the families of the earth shall not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King,
the Lord of hosts, upon them there shall be no rain. And if the family of Egypt do
not go up to Jerusalem and present themselves, upon them there shall be no rain,
but there shall be the plague with which the Lord will smite the nations that go not
up to KEEP THE FEAST OF TABERNACLES. This shall be the consequent
punishment of the sin of Egypt, and the consequent punishment of the sin of all the
nations that do not go up to keep the feast of Tabernacles" (Zech.14:16-19, Amplified
Obviously, as the prophet points out, the Feast of Tabernacles is a TEST -- a test upon ALL NATIONS!
Writes Michael Strassfeld, in The Jewish Holidays: A Guide and Commentary,
"An important and underlying theme of Sukkot is its messianic and universalist
character. Coming at the end of the agricultural year and the end of the pilgrim-
age cycle, Sukkot marks the end of a passage of time. It thereby anticipates the
MESSIANIC END OF DAYS for all people. During Sukkot a total of seventy
sacrifices were brought into the temple, corresponding to the tradition's count of
the number of nations in the world . . . .
"This vision of universal brotherhood is reflected in the sukkah, whose door and
roof are open to all. The sukkah, in turn, evokes a vision of God's sukkah as a house
of prayer for all nations. In that future, God will spread a sukkah shalom -- a
sheltering cover made of peace and harmony. Even as we remember the desert
period of old, having reached the end of time, we eagerly await the redemption, the
crossing over into the promised land" (p.146-147).
But as the prophecy of Zechariah, shows, the passage from this age of strife and wickedness into the new world of peace and utopia will not be an easy one. At first, the nations will not be willing to come up to Jerusalem to keep the Feast of Tabernacles, and to dwell in sukkot, worshipping the King, the Lord of hosts. They will rebel. Some, like Egypt, will be hard to convince. God will have to use the threat of drought, and even plagues, to bring some of the nations to their senses!
For the nations of the world, the observance of the Feast of Tabernacles will be a divine test!
But is God now beginning to give this "test" to His end-time people, today? As the apostle Peter wrote: "For the time is come when judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?" (I Pet.4:17-18).
A New TEST Upon God's People!
Many THINK they are observing the Feast of Tabernacles -- by going away to a swank or holiday resort, and having "fun," and listening to a number of sermons, and living in motels and living it up with pleasures, gourmet dining, visiting museums, etc. BUT THE LAW OF GOD NOWHERE says THAT is the way to "KEEP THE FEAST!"
The "Feast of Booths" is to be observed by BUILDING OR CONSTRUCTING BOOTHS -- JUST AS THE "NAME" OF THE FEAST IMPLIES! Those nations who will not do this, during the Millennial reign of the Messiah, will suffer PUNISHMENT! No rain will fall, drought, and consequent famine, will erupt! And if that doesn't bring them around, then disease epidemics, and the plague!
Do we get the point, today? What about us? If WE don't observe this Feast of God properly, won't we also "reap the consequences"? Will God be pleased if we continue to ignore His commands, and celebrate His feasts in a manner that only pleases us, in a way He never commanded?
Think about it!
Says Avraham Yaakov Finkel, in The Essence of the Holy Days,
"Sukkot is a TEST of man's attachment to God, and the nations
will observe Sukkot to prove their newfound loyalty to Him"
(emphasis mine, p.89).
What about you and your family? Are you "passing the test"? Or are you in danger of "flunking out"?
Will you observe Sukkot properly this coming year, as God intended, and as He commanded? Will YOU "wave the lulav" in joyous celebration, worshipping God, as you dwell in your "temporary dwelling" -- your make-shift, rickety, fragile, homemade BOOTH that you have constructed wherever you keep the Feast? Whether in a camp ground, park, or festival gathering -- or in your own back yard, or balcony, or roof-top?
Isn't it time therefore that we really, with all our heart, began to OBEY God and follow His instructions and commands?
It is strange indeed how some just do not want to perform these simple little commandments -- they will argue, twist, strain at gnats, and set their jaws -- in refusing to obey God and build a sukkah during the Feast of Sukkot. Some think it is "too Jewish" -- but the truth is, it is simply A COMMANDMENT OF ALMIGHTY GOD!
Isn't it time we get our bearings straight, and begin to "live by EVERY word of God"? (Matt.4:4; Luke 4:4; Deut.8:3). Isn't it time we perform and obey God's Law, in its entirety, with JOY unbounded and running over? Isn't it time we celebrate His Festival in the manner in which HE commands, with tremendous JOY, and total commitment, and 100% obedience?
Says Leslie Koppelman Ross, further:
"For joy reflects a feeling of optimism about the future, and no matter what the
immediate situation, a Jew [that is, a true Jew, or true believer in the Messiah --
see Romans 2:26-27] believes in the promise of redemption: 'I believe with perfect
faith in the coming of the Messiah, and though he may tarry, daily I will wait for
his coming' (Maimonides' Thirteen Principles of Faith).
"It is an attitude that, along with the teachings of Torah, sustained the Jewish people.
The rabbis said that in the world to come, we will be REWARDED FOR THE JOY
we felt in performing mitzvot [the commandments], rather than for the actual obser-
vance of the commandments. In other words, indication of motivation is seen as more
important than going through the motions" (p.218).
So let's put on a 'happy face" -- and at the Feast of Tabernacles, serve and worship God with JOY bubbling over and irrepressible and exploding forth in dazzling radiance and brilliance! Let's REJOICE during this Feast, as we have never rejoiced before, as we BUILD OUR BOOTHS, and celebrate the Feast, in sheer ecstatic worship of the One True God!
"Since the sukkah is a memorial to God's protection, it is meant to enhance the joy
of the festival. If you do not feel joy, you cannot appropriately fulfill the mitzvah
of dwelling in the sukkah" p.226).
So let's serve our God with joy and happiness, and be thankful for every one of His divine commandments -- including the precious "little" ones, that are meant to increase our joy and depth of feeling and worship!
Isn't it time we REALLY "contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints" (Jude 3)? The Greek word for "contend" here is #1864, epagonizomai, meaning "to struggle for, earnestly contend for." How well are we doing?
The Feast of Tabernacles time is not mere "vacation" time. It is a TESTING TIME -- will we obey God, and do what He commanded -- or not? Will you PROVE your loyalty and obedience to God by keeping this Feast as He commanded -- lulav, sukkot (booth), and all?
Or are you going to miss out on the true joy, and lessons, of this fantastic Feast of God --called "the Feast" in Scripture?
What about you?
Praise God for this deeper and awesome understanding of the meaning and significance of His holy Feast of Tabernacles! Praise God for revealing to us the manifold "secrets of the Sukkah"! Thank God for His mercy and lovingkindness!
How much we have missed out on true, vital spiritual understanding, in the years gone by, because we did not literally fulfill this plain Scriptural commandment! It is as if we had only come "part way" out of sin -- but still remained with one foot in the world! We have sinned, as Malachi says: "But ye are departed out of the [true] way; ye have caused many to stumble at the law . . . as ye have not kept my ways, but have been PARTIAL in the law" (Malachi 2:8-9).
"PARTIAL in the law"! What an indictment! God says He will make end-time ministers and pastors "contemptible and base before all the people," because of this sin! (verse 9). "Despicable and vile," says the Tanakh! "Despised and humiliated," says the NIV. Says the Septuagint: "But ye have turned aside from the way, and caused many to fail in following the law . . . And I have made you despised and cast out among all the people, because ye have not kept my ways, but have been partial in the law."
But what about you? Now that you know and understand the truth, will you obey it? Will you build a sukkah or "booth" next year? It is entirely up to you. Is a "word to the wise" sufficient? God will surely bless those who obey Him -- from the heart!