The most festive season of the year in Israel continues! We are approaching Sukkot, also known as the Festival of Booths or Feast of Tabernacles, which lasts an entire week. Preparations for this big holiday are already way underway! In Israel, the Jewish people usually start building booths already around Rosh HaShanah.
Sukkot celebrates the earth’s harvest (Deuteronomy 6:13-15) and it is a time to thank God for His blessings. But more importantly, Sukkot commemorates Israel’s deliverance from Egypt, as described in Leviticus 23:34-44.
Seven Days in Booths
God led His people through the desert, protected them, provided for them and healed them. Wandering in the desert, the Hebrews camped along the way, that is why God commanded Israel to build and live in temporary “dwellings” for a week at this time of year. The booths or tents are also a symbol of the fact that we are sojourners on earth.
God told Moses to share with the people the following commandment:
Celebrate this as a festival to the Lord for seven days each year. This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come; celebrate it in the seventh month. Live in temporary shelters for seven days: All native-born Israelites are to live in such shelters so your descendants will know that I had the Israelites live in temporary shelters when I brought them out of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.’ Leviticus 23:41-43
It is common for Israelis to share gifts and food baskets with their friends and family during the Feast of Tabernacles, similarly to the western harvest festivals, including Thanksgiving.
A Bouquet of Four
During Sukkot, the Jewish people prepare a special bouquet of four plants to wave before the Lord. It is called a Lulav and each element holds a very symbolic meaning. In the right hand we should have one palm branch, two willow branches and three myrtle branches. In our left hand we hold an Etrog (citrus fruit).
On the first day you are to take branches from luxuriant trees—from palms, willows and other leafy trees—and rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days. Leviticus 23:40
The sages of Israel saw in this bouquet a symbol of the nation’s unity. Additionally, Christian scholars saw in these four plants parallels to Jesus’ parable of the sower and the four types of soil (Matthew 13:3-9).
The noble citrus fruit, which has a strong fragrance and distinct taste, represents Israelites who carry the pleasant scent of the Torah and fulfill it – which means, they listen to the Word and live it out.
The palm branch has no smell, but palms bear a sweet fruit – dates. It represents those who do not know the Torah but strive to live well, thus honor the Scriptures without knowing them. The myrtle on the other hand has a very pleasant scent but does not bear any edible fruit. It is like those who know God’s Word but do not live according to it.
Finally, the willow, which gives neither a pleasant smell nor fruit, symbolizes those who do not know the Torah, and have not made any attempts to live their lives in a worthy and good manner.
Waving the full bouquet, the Jewish people plead before God, “Lord, take us all as we are,” and at the same time proclaim the unity of all Israel, by faith. Through God’s Word, we know that He indeed receives us as we are, but He has no intention to let us remain the same. He is faithful to teach us, transform us and help us grow.
Israel and the Nations
The message of Sukkot is also about the future – the second coming of Messiah, which will be a joyous day for those who know Him. When the Messiah comes, He will collect the harvest for the Father’s Kingdom.
In the Jewish synagogues, people often read from the Book of Zechariah, especially chapter 14 that foreshadows the return of the Messiah and His saints. It speaks of the Messiah’s reign, God’s exaltation of Jerusalem, overcoming Israel’s enemies, and all nations pilgrimaging to God’s Holy City for Sukkot.
During the Festival of Booths, the Jewish people also pray for other nations, inviting them to come to Jerusalem to celebrate together, since God already commanded Moses and the Hebrews to include the foreigner in their feasts. (Deuteronomy 16:14)
Feast of Tabernacles is a time to evaluate our past and refocus our minds on the right path. God wants each generation to remember their journey after they left Egypt:
You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” But remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms His covenant, which He swore to your ancestors, as it is today. Deuteronomy 8:17-18
The Feast of Tabernacles is a time of spiritual purification for a man and a woman who are being reconciled with God. It’s a season of overwhelming joy. The abundant crops are a reminder of God’s goodness. Israel rejoices in the miraculous protection of God who accompanied them in the desert. It is also a manifestation of total dependence on God.