Five days after Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), the most solemn day on the Hebrew calendar, one of the most joyful of Jewish holidays takes place—the Feast of Tabernacles or “Sukkot” in Hebrew.
(By the way, experiencing Yom Kippur in Jerusalem is amazing. Everything shuts down, the streets are deserted and most people remain indoors or go to the local synagogue. The silence is profound and a powerful hush falls over the city.)
In contrast, the Feast of Tabernacles is a celebration. It’s also known as the Feast of Ingathering because it occurs during the fall harvest.
“…on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the fruit of the land, you shall keep the feast of the Lord seven days…You shall dwell in booths for seven days; all who are native Israelites shall dwell in booths, that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 23:39-43)
During this holiday, Israelis serve meals in their sukkas (hut or booth) and some even sleep in them. Jerusalem is filled with sukkas. They’re on sidewalks, balconies, and rooftops. The municipality claims to have built the world’s largest sukka just outside City Hall. But most of the structures don’t look like much. A good wind could easily blow the palm fronds from the roofs and knock the walls down. And that’s exactly how it’s supposed to be, a reminder of how temporal and fragile our lives are.
Over the centuries, dwelling in these flimsy booths for seven days served as a reminder to Jews that their forefathers lived in tents during their 40-year sojourn in the desert. But they weren’t alone. God’s presence accompanied them in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. He provided the children of Israel with everything they needed. They lacked nothing.
Today, a stroll through Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda, the outdoor market (or shuk ) is ample evidence of God’s blessing on His land and people. The vendors’ stands overflow with fresh produce: pomegranates, apples, oranges, bananas, figs and dates, and a sumptuous variety of leafy green lettuce, scallions, mint, tomatoes, and cucumbers. The fall harvest is abundant.
Bakeries offer hot baked pita bread, cakes, cookies, and barekas (pastries with cheese or potato stuffing) hot from the oven. Fresh eggs, dried beans, nuts and every herb, varieties of olives, cheeses, meat, and fish complete the selection.
During this holiday, vendors do a brisk business as Israelis stock up on provisions to serve their guests in the sukka. It’s a festive holiday, meant to be shared with neighbors and friends.
“And you shall rejoice in your feast, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant and the Levite, the stranger and the fatherless and the widow, who are within your gates” (Deuteronomy 16:14).
The nondescript outside of the hut doesn’t reflect its inside. Fruits and brightly colored decorations hang from the ceiling. Strings of lights add a magical touch after dark, and pictures often adorn the walls. A holiday cloth covers the table, and comfortable chairs invite guests to take a break from life’s hustle and bustle and enjoy each other’s company.
There’s something indescribably special about sharing a meal in these temporary dwellings. A respite from the high-tech world that bombards our daily lives is good for the soul and spirit. Inside the sukka, one can put aside the increasing dangers confronting today’s world.
In the sukka, God’s sovereignty, His abundant provision and goodness overshadow the bigger-than-life scenarios facing mankind. The simplest meal is fit for a king, and both the server and the recipient experience the joy and peace that only comes from the abiding presence of the Creator of the universe.
The Feast of Tabernacles has profound significance for Christians as well. The two main components of this autumn festival, dwelling in temporary huts and harvesting the produce of the land, mirror the life and redemption of the Son of God.
While the first two pilgrimage feasts that take place in the spring—Pesach (Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread) and Shavuot (Pentecost)—speak of the Messiah’s death and resurrection and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit—the last pilgrimage feast—the Feast of Tabernacles—speaks of His second coming when He will tabernacle with us here on earth and our corruptible (temporary) bodies will be exchanged for incorruptible (eternal).
While Israel’s enemies are convinced they will bring about her demise, Romans 11:26-27 foretell God’s plans for His covenant people:
“And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written:
The Deliverer will come out of Zion,
And He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob;
For this is My covenant with them,
When I take away their sins.”