Sukkot – Tabernacles: Feast of our Joy
What is Sukkot and why is it celebrated
Feast of Tabernacles or Feast of Sukkot is an annual festival mentioned in Leviticus 23:33-44 that celebrates Elohim’s blessings, Grace, and sovereignty.
Sukkot or the Feast of Tabernacles (or Feast of Booths) is a week-long fall festival. It commemorates the 40-year journey of the Hebrews in the wilderness. This is one of three pilgrimage feasts along with Passover and the Festival of Weeks (Pentecost) recorded in Scriptures.
In the Book of Leviticus, Elohim told Moshe to command the people:
“On the first day you shall take the product of hadar trees, branches of palm trees, boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook” (Wayiqra-Lev. 23:40), and “You shall live in booths seven days; all native of Israel shall live in booths, in order that future generations may know that I made the Israelite people live in booths when I brought them out of the land of Mitzrayim.” (Wayiqra-Lev. 23:42–43).
The origins of Sukkot are both historical and agricultural. Historically, Sukkot commemorates the forty-year period during which the children of Israel were wandering in the desert, living in temporary shelters. Agriculturally, Sukkot is a harvest festival and is sometimes referred to as Chag HaAsif (חג האסיף, the “Festival of Ingathering”), as it celebrates the in-gathering of the harvest.
We celebrate these set apart feasts in the present in order to remember something Elohim had done in the past. All while looking forward to some future prophetic purpose hidden within each festival. This is true for our weekly observance of Shabbat (Sabbath) as well.
What is the feast of In-gathering, Abundance and Autumn festival
Sukkot goes by several aliases. Sometimes called Tabernacles, Feast of in-gathering, sukkot, booths, feast of abundance, festival of shelters, autumn festival, feast of our joy.
Time of Observance
Sukkot begins on the 15th day of the 7th month of the Hebrew calendar. This puts Sukkot third in line of the fall feasts of the Hebrew calendar. The first day of the 7th month is Yom Teruah (day of sounding the alarm/joyful noise). On day ten after Yom Teruah (day of joyful noise) is Yom haKippurim, the feast of Atonement (Yom Kippur). Sukkot is celebrated from the 15th-21st day of the 7th month of the Hebrew calendar (also called Tishri). This usually falls between September and October of the secular Gregorian calendar.
The calendar has been an issue since the days of Yeshua Messiah. For uniformity, Messianic and Orthodox communities observe the moedim (feasts) according to a standard lunisolar calendar. This calendar was established by Hillel II (Hillel ben R Yehudah) in the mid 4th-century. It was established because of persecution and attested in a letter to emperor Julian.
Hillel II (Hebrew: הלל נשיאה, Hillel the Nasi), also known simply as Hillel, was an Amora of the fifth generation. He held the office of Nasi of the Sanhedrin between 320 and 385 CE in Yisral. Hillel II was the son and successor of Yehudah III. And is sometimes confused with Hillel the Elder, as the Talmud sometimes simply uses the name “Hillel”.
The Hillel II lunisolar Hebrew calendar used today is the product of evolution, including a Babylonian influence. Months are synchronized with the phases of the moon. But it’s average year length approximates the mean length of a solar year.
The Sanhedrin declared new months based on observations of the new moon. They added a 13th lunar month to certain years to ensure that holidays would continue to fall in the same seasons of the solar year.
Until the Tannaitic period (approximately 10–220 CE), the calendar employed a new crescent moon. With an additional month normally added every two or three years. This serves to correct for the difference between twelve lunar months and the solar year. The year in which it was added was based on observation of natural agriculture-related events in ancient Israel.
Through the Amoraic period (200–500 CE) and into the Geonic period, this system was gradually displaced. The Hillel II calendar used today employs mathematical rules only. The principles and rules were fully codified by Maimonides in the Mishneh Torah in the 12th century.
Maimonides’ work also replaced counting “years since the destruction of the Temple” with the modern creation-era Anno Mundi.
According to the Hillel calendar Sukkot 2019 will begin in the evening of Sunday October 13. It ends in the evening of Sunday October 20
Customs of the Feast of Tabernacles: How do you celebrate sukkot?
Many interesting customs are associated with the celebration of Sukkot. The booth of Sukkot is called a sukkah. These shelters consist of at least three walls and are framed with wood and canvas. The roof or covering is made from cut branches and leaves, placed loosely atop, leaving open space for the stars to be viewed and rain to enter. It is common to decorate the sukkah with flowers, leaves and fruits.
what do you do on the feast of tabernacles.
Today, the requirement to dwell in the booth can be met by eating at least one meal a day in it. However, some believers still sleep in the sukkah. I go caping for the whole feast with friends and I have had some chilling encounters with my Elohim during sukkot. If the camp has a body of water I do a mikvah every morning during my morning meditation. If the camp does not have a body of living water I mikvah before going to camp.
A lot of believers take a pilgrimmage to Yisral to celebrate sukkot in Yisral. Others build a sukkah in their backyard and have friends over for Torah studies, midrash, praise and worship, music around the camp fire and the most delicious foods…yummy.
Since Sukkot is a harvest festival, typical foods include lots of fresh fruits and vegetables.
Some groups have a formal service every morning with a written order of service, scripture readings etc while some are more casual.
Deberim/Deuteronomy 31:10-11 says
Then, Moshe commanded them, saying, “At the end of [every] seven years, at an appointed time, in the Festival of Sukkoth, [after] the year of release, When all Israel comes to appear before יהוה – YHWH, your Elohim, in the place He will choose, you shall read this Torah before all Israel, in their ears.
Since there is some dissagreement about when the shmita was some groups just split up the book of Deberim/Deuteronomy into daily portions read by all in the assembly while standing. So by the end of the feast the commandment to read the Torah would have been fulfilled.
During the Feast of Tabernacles, or Sukkot, believers all across the world gather together in not only to remember Elohim’s provision but also to look forward to that promised Messianic age when all nations will come to worship יהוה – YHWH as stated in Zecharyah 14:16
If you or your group has a favourite Sukkot tradition you’ll like to share please do so in the comment section below 🙂
The Season of Our Joy
“You shall rejoice before יהוה – YHWH your Elohim.” (Wayiqra/Leviticus 23:40)
One of the names for Sukkot is Z’man Simchateinu (The Season of Our Joy). In Scripture, in fact, the word “joy” appears several times in connection with Sukkot.
“Be joyful at your Feast—you, your sons and daughters, your menservants and maidservants, and the Levites, the aliens, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns.… For יהוה – YHWH your Elohim will bless you in all your harvest and in all the work of your hands, and your joy will be complete.” (Deberim/Deuteronomy 16:13–15)
Since Sukkot is also a harvest festival, we can well imagine that there is great reason for joy. Indeed, one of the other names for the holiday is the Feast of Ingathering.
“Celebrate the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you gather in your crops from the field.” (Shemot/Exodus 23:16)
During ancient times, every day of The Festival, except Shabbat, was characterized by music, song and dancing.
Believers all across the world gather today, to dance, sing and rejoice with tremendous joy until the early hours of the morning before יהוה – YHWH.
This is in partial fulfillment of prophecy. The Prophets tell us that a day will come when the exiles of Yisral return to Tziyon. Her streets will be filled with the sounds of joyful melodies, and sorrow will disappear.
“The ransomed of יהוה – YHWH will return. They will enter Tziyon with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.” (Yeshayahu/Isaiah 51:11)
Meanwhile, there are tons of activities for the kids. Bible trivia, music, dance, obstacle courses, kosher smores, sack races, arts and crafts etc. The kids usually enjoy making ribbons and art work to decorate the sukkah. And then there is the food. So much good food. Some groups have all meals together as a community while others designate a few days during the feast for community pot bliss or oneg.
Tabernacles is unique in that the multitude of nations are invited to join in the festivities of worship to יהוה – YHWH at this “appointed time”. יהוה – YHWH told Moshe to gather all men, women and children, along with the foreigners in their land, so they can learn to fear יהוה – YHWH (Deut. 31:12).
When Shlomo later dedicated the Temple during Sukkot, he asked יהוה – YHWH to hear the prayers of any foreigners that would come there to pray (2 Chronicles 6:32-33). It may surprise some, but Yahshua Messiah kept the Feast of Tabernacles as well. On the last “great day of the feast”, he stood in the Temple and cried out: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” (Yochanan/John 7:37-38)
Remembering God’s Past Provision
The most visible symbol of Sukkot is the small booth the believers are commanded to dwell in for the eight days of the Feast (Wayiqra/Leviticus 23:33-43).
In Yisral today, families build these makeshift huts on their patios and balconies, and decorate them with colourful fruit, ribbons and pictures. Some families eat their meals in the sukkah and even sleep there at night. These flimsy booths are a reminder to Israel that they once dwelled in temporary shelters during the forty years in the Wilderness, totally dependent onיהוה – YHWH. Elohim is faithful and He continues to provide all we need to walk upright before Him still today.
Meanwhile in the United States and the rest of the world believers gather together at camp grounds with their camping gear. Some gather at their homes with a tent out back to recreate a camping experience. I have heard of people going on cruises for sukkot and I’ve seen adds. I have yet to meet someone who does that.
Tasting the Joy of the Messianic Age to Come
Zechariah foretold of a time when all nations will ascend to Yerushalayim each year to “worship the King, יהוה – YHWH of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles” (14:16).
Thus we also keep Sukkot now because of this future prophetic purpose. Throughout the Messianic Age, the entire world will celebrate this feast because it will mark the return of Yahshua Messiah to the earth. But for now, the increasing number of believers all across the world who celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles is a powerful statement of faith demonstrating that we believe the Millennial Kingdom of Yahshua is coming.
For the past 39 years, Christians from all over the world have also come to Jerusalem each fall to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles, sponsored by the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem. They come to take part in a dynamic worship experience and to taste of the joy of the Lord in the age to come.
An important Sukkot symbol is the sukkah. This is a temporary structure with a roof made of sechach or s’chach, which is raw, unfinished plant material, such as palm branches, bamboo poles, reeds or even corn stalks.
The “four species” are also important symbols of Sukkot and represent the blessings of nature. These are lulav (a green, closed frond of a date palm tree), hadass (twigs and leaves from a myrtle tree), aravah (twigs and leaves from a willow tree) and etrog (a lemon-like fruit of the citron tree). These are waved while reciting Psalm 118:25 and special prayers called Hoshanot..
Arba Minim: The Four Species
“You shall take for yourselves on the first day [of the festival] the splendid fruit of a tree [etrog], palms of dates [lulav], the branch of the thickly leafed tree [hadas], and willows [aravot] of the brook.” (Leviticus 23:40)
Another observance carried out each day of Sukkot except Shabbat is the Four Species (Arba Minim): an etrog (citron), a lulav (palm frond), three hadassim (myrtle twigs) and two aravot (willow twigs). They are bound together in such a way that they can be held together easily.
The lulav, hadassim and aravot are first taken up with the right hand and then the etrog is taken with the left hand. A blessing is recited over the Four Species:
“Blessed are You, God … who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to take the lulav.”
Fabric sukkah (Go Israel photo by Dana Friedlander)
Facing the direction where the Temple in Jerusalem once stood, the Four Species are then shaken in all six directions: right, left, forward, up, down and backward.
Rabbinic tradition explains that the Four Species represent the various personalities that make up the community of believers. They are held together and a blessing is recited over them to bless the unity of all peoples and nations, which is emphasized on Sukkot.
Is work allowed during sukkot
34 “Speak to the sons of Israel, saying, ‘On the fifteenth of this seventh month is the Feast of Booths for seven days to YHWH. 35 ‘On the first day is a holy convocation; you shall do no laborious work of any kind. 36 ‘For seven days you shall present an offering by fire to YHWH. On the eighth day you shall have a holy convocation and present an offering by fire to YHWH; it is an assembly. You shall do no laborious work.
The first day of Sukkot is a non working Sabbath. The 8th day called the last great day is a no working sabbath as well
The other days of the holiday are called Chol HaMoed (weekdays of the festival or intermediate period). During these days the workload is reduced; many people take the week off as vacation.