At sundown this evening, Jews around the world begin to celebrate the seven day festival of Tabernacles or Succot (the Hebrew word for tabernacles, tents, dwellings).
The Feast of Tabernacles is a very joyous holiday lasting from the 15th of until the 22nd of the Hebrew month of Tishrei (Oct. 17-24 this year).
This festival is the last of seven mandated for the Jewish people in the book of Leviticus, chapter 23, where God instructs Moses: ”Say to the Israelites: ‘on the fifteenth day of the seventh month the Lord’s Feast of Tabernacles begins, and it lasts for seven days”.
The Feast of Tabernacles commemorates the 40 years the Israelites lived in the desert, after the Exodus from Egypt and dwelled in tents or ‘tabernacles’, on their journey to the Promised Land. As soon as Yom Kippur is over, Jews begin to construct their temporary dwelling – in their garden if they have one, or for apartment dwellers, on their balconies. Throughout the holiday, families eat their meals in the these temporary dwellings and some even sleep in them, at least in Israel where the weather is still warm enough to do so.
The tabernacle, or ‘Succah’, must consist of at least three walls covered with a top made by branches or leaves from a Palm tree. The roof of the tabernacle should include an open space so that the stars can be seen to remind those who sit in it that life on this earth is temporary and we look forward to eternal life in the world to come. It is the special pleasure of the children in the family to decorate the succah with all manner of colorful pictures, hangings and fruit.
Zechariah the prophet refers to the Feast of Tabernacles when he prophesies that in the end of days when the Messiah comes: ”the nations shall go every year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts and to keep the Feast of Succot”. His prophecy also states that those nations that will not come to Jerusalem to worship the LORD will suffer drought as a consequence.
Here in Israel, Succot is one of the most joyful times of the year. Throughout this coming week, visits to family and friends add to our enjoyment of the festival. Yet even as we celebrate, partake of wonderful food and happy reunions the reality of eternity is never far from our consciousness.
We pray that this would be the year the Messiah would appear and bring the Kingdom of God to this troubled world.
For all of you celebrating Succot with us, may you realize the immense blessings of this festival and come closer to God than ever before. May He ‘tabernacle’ with you in a special way during this week.
To friends of every nation, Succot is also the time when we celebrate that all mankind are God’s creation; every nation has its place and its calling in God’s overall plan for the world. In fact, the Succot liturgy includes prayers for all the nations of the world.
One day – may it be soon – Messiah will reign from Jerusalem; swords will be beaten into plowshares, the lion will lie down with the lamb and peace shall finally come between men and women of every race and nation.
May it come soon – even in our day.
A happy, healthy and blessed Succot week to all of you.