The Appointed Times of YHVH—the Festival of the Booths
Incorrectly Sukkot is considered the last appointed time of the year in the Rabbinical tradition and is observed for eight instead of seven days. The Torah requires we build sukkot on this appointed time, but says nothing about how to build the sukkah (the booth). And, why are we commanded to observe Chag Sukkot, the Festival of the Booths?
These are the appointed times of Yehovah, set-apart gatherings which you are to proclaim at their appointed times. (Lev 23:4)
Speak to the children of Israel, saying, On the fifteenth day of this seventh month is the Festival of Booths for seven days to Yehovah. On the first day is a set-apart gathering, you do no servile work. For seven days you bring an offering made by fire to Yehovah. On the eighth day there shall be a set-apart gathering for you, and you shall bring an offering made by fire to Yehovah. It is a closing festival, you do no servile work. (Lev 23:34-36)
On the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you gather in the fruit of the land, celebrate the festival of Yehovah for seven days. On the first day is a Shabbaton, and on the eighth day a Shabbaton. And you shall take for yourselves on the first day the fruit of good trees, branches of palm trees, twigs of leafy trees, and willows of the stream, and shall rejoice before Yehovah your Elohim for seven days. And you shall celebrate it as a festival to Yehovah for seven days in the year – a law forever in your generations. Celebrate it in the seventh month. Dwell in booths for seven days, all born in Israel shall dwell in booths, so that your generations know that I made the children of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt. I am Yehovah your Elohim. (Lev 23:39-43)
With this study of Chag Sukkot, the Festival of the Booths, we arrive closer to the end of the appointed times of YHVH. Incorrectly this appointed time is considered the last of the year in the Rabbinical tradition and is observed for eight instead of seven days. In Hebrew the Festival of the Booths is known as Chag Sukkot where chag is Hebrew for “festival” and sukkot—for “booths.”
סֻכָּה sukkah (pl. sukkot) is very often translated from the Hebrew as “a tent”, “a booth” or “a tabernacle” but this will be a simplistic translation, since the Hebrew words for “tent” and “booth” cannot be used interchangeably, as we will see below in this study.
Sukkah is a feminine form of סֹךְ soch, a hut or a lair, and comes from the verb סָכַךְ sachach, which means to cover, to entwine as a screen, to fence in, or cover over, to hedge in, and figuratively to protect. Hence, sukkah (plural sukkot) is a place of protection from the elements or from wild beasts.
The Torah does require that we build a sukkah on this appointed time, but says nothing about any shape and form or as to how or what pattern to build it on; nothing beyond saying that you shall take for yourselves on the first day the fruit of good trees, branches of palm trees, twigs of leafy trees, and willows of the stream, and shall rejoice.
We should note that upon first reading it is not immediately clear what to do with these branches. In the Rabbinical tradition the branches of the good trees are used to make a bundle which is waved during the prayer service. However, this is not mentioned anywhere in the Tanak.
In Neh_8:14-16, however, we are told what the purpose of ‘the branches of the good trees’ was to make booths. In other words, in the second Temple period when they read Lev 23:40 they understood it to be commanding the taking of the “four species” for the purpose of building the booths in which they were to dwell for seven days. Note also that the ethrog (citron) used in the Judaism today is not even mentioned.
So, after reading Lev 23:40 and Neh 8:15 it becomes clear that we can use any vegetation for the purpose of building our sukkot as far as it is (1) a leafy tree, (2) the branches of any palm tree, (3) any fruit tree, and (4) willows, myrtle branches, or any other kind of tree if these two cannot be found.
We should also note (which is a matter of debate) that we are told to dwell in booths for seven days, all born in Israel shall dwell in booths, so that your generations know that I made the children of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt. I am Yehovah your Elohim.
Some hold the view that according to this verse only those native, that is born in Israel, are required to build and dwell in booths. Others extend the command to the Jews in exile too. This command is open for debate, but one thing is for sure: if one lives in the land of Israel today, s/he is to build and dwell in a sukkah (a booth).
For more on this debate, the reader may refer to the related articles Why to Build and Dwell in Temporary Dwellings on Sukkot and Should Only the Native Born in Israel Dwell in Booths on Sukkot?
As for the shape and form of the sukkah, as we noted already, the Torah says nothing. The midrashic (Midrash, Hebrew for commentary) interpretation of the verse, that Israel dwelt in sukkot forty years in the wilderness, is that the sukkot are a reference to the cloud of glory above the camp, which accompanied the Israelites in the desert. What the Midrash means by this is that “sukkot” in Lev 23:39-43 is not to be understood as literal tents of Bedouins, which would be the Hebrew word oheil, but it is to be understood thus:
Dwell in sukkot for seven days, all born in Israel shall dwell in sukkot, so that your generations know that I made the children of Israel dwell in the cloud of glory when I brought them out of the land of Egypt. (Lev 23:39-43)
The present author considers this interpretation very plausible because the Biblical narratives mention that the Israelites actually lived in tents (ohalim) and not booths (sukkot), as the following examples illustrate:
And Mosheh took his tent (oheil) and pitched it outside the camp, far from the camp, and called it the tent (oheil) of meeting. And it came to be that everyone who sought Yehovah went out to the tent (oheil) of meeting which was outside the camp. And it came to be, whenever Mosheh went out to the tent (oheil), that all the people rose, and each man stood at his tent (oheil) door and watched Mosheh until he entered the tent (oheil). And it came to be, when Mosheh entered the tent (oheil), that the column of cloud descended and stood at the door of the tent (oheil), and He spoke with Mosheh. And all the people saw the column of cloud standing at the tent (oheil) door, and all the people rose and bowed themselves, each one at the door of his tent (oheil). (Exo 33:7-10)
The context here is the separation of Mosheh from Israel due to the golden calf sin the people committed against YHVH. Mosheh moved his own tent outside of the camp after YHVH plagued the people for the calf they and Aharon made (Exo 32:35).
So, we see from these verses and elsewhere that the Hebrew word oheil, a tent, refers to the tents the Israelites dwelled in. Note what the narrative says when it referred to the column of cloud that descended and stood at the door of the tent and what the Midrash says about the Hebrew word sukkah.
Having said that, we come to the understanding of sukkah’s literal meaning in Hebrew. Let us read the verses below in which the Hebrew words sukkah and sukkot are used with their literal meaning:
And He put darkness around Him as sukkot, darkness of waters, thick clouds. (2Sa 22:12)
He made darkness His covering; around Him His sukkah, darkness of waters, thick clouds of the skies. (Psa 18:11)
Also, who understands the spreading of clouds, the crashing from His sukkah. (Job 36:29)
then Yehovah shall create above every dwelling place of Mount Tsiyon, and above her gatherings, a cloud and smoke by day and the shining of a flaming fire by night, for over all the glory shall be a covering, and a sukkah for shade in the daytime from the heat, for a place of refuge, and for a shelter from storm and rain. (Isa 4:5-6)
Then Yonah went out of the city and sat on the east side of the city, and made himself a sukkah there, and sat under it in the shade, to see what would become of the city. (Jon 4:5)
In the secrecy of Your presence You shall hide them from the plots of man; You shelter them in a sukkah from the strife of tongues. (Psa 31:20)
From the literal reading of the above verses, we see that sukkah or sukkot is something that covers, protects, and hedge in, in a literal or figurative way, serving as a defence both against the heat of the sun, and also against wind and rain. Or, we may say that “sukkah” should look like a shelter or canopy, and this is how the sukkot we build should look like.
The sukkot should not be or look like tents nor should they look like any permanent structures, but they should look like shelters or canopies, since the darkness provided by YHVH for His people was a covering for them in the desert. That is, it was like a heavenly canopy over the camp and served as a shelter, as this is what a shelter does for protection from the elements. The shape and form of the sukkot should not be crucial considerations for the preparation for the Festival of Sukkot.
How, then, are we to understand the reference in Lev 23:43 to the Israelites dwelling in booths?
Dwell in sukkot for seven days, all born in Israel shall dwell in sukkot, so that your generations know that I made the children of Israel dwell in sukkot when I brought them out of the land of Egypt. I am Yehovah your Elohim. (Lev 23:43)
Their dwelling in sukkot was by no means intended to bring before the minds of the future generations of Israel the wandering life in the desert, and remind them of the trouble endured by the fathers, but it was to place vividly before their eyes a remembrance of the grace, care, and protection which YHVH afforded to His people in the terrible wilderness. But, for more insight on the life of Israel which they lived in the Arabian exile, the reader may refer to the article Israel’s Contention in Arabia.
Therefore, the shielding and protecting presence of YHVH in the pillar of cloud and fire was a sukkah for a shadow in the day-time from the heat, and for a place of refuge, and for a covert from storm and from rain, to those who had just been redeemed out of Egypt.
Moreover, the sukkot built for this appointed time were not made of any branches, but of branches of fruit-trees, and date palms, the produce of the Promised Land into which YHVH had brought them. And in this respect the sukkot represent for the future generations of Israel not only a living picture of the blessing of the produce of the land, but of a miraculous protection for His people in time of distress. Just like the fathers were protected by a pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night in the desert.
Among all appointed times of YHVH only three are called “festival” or chag and they are the Festival of the Unleavened Bread, the Festival of Weeks, and Chag Sukkot, the Festival of the Booths. For these three festivals all males of Israel are required to come before YHVH in Jerusalem.
What is new about Chag Sukkot, the Festival of the Booths, is that they are required to erect booths (sukkot) and live in them for seven days to commemorate the care and protection YHVH afforded to the father in the wilderness. Let us recall what was the reason for the Arabian exile (as the present author calls the wandering in the desert). The reason for the thirty-eight year exile in Arabia was the fathers’ contention against YHVH not to enter the Promised Land. Please, refer to the article “What was the sin of the ten spies?” for more insight.
Every Sabbatical year at Chag Sukkot, the Festival of the Booths, all Israel will also hear the Torah as Mosheh commanded them, as we read,
At the end of seven years, at the appointed time, the year of release, at the Festival of Sukkot when all Israel comes to appear before Yehovah your Elohim in the place which He chooses, read this Torah before all Israel in their hearing. (Deu 31:10-11)
Note that in v.12 all Israel, not only the males, is commanded to appear before YHVH for Chag Sukkot, the Festival of the Booths, in a Sabbatical year: all Israel comes to appear … the men and the women and the little ones, and your sojourner.
We should remember that at Chag Sukkot, the Festival of the Booths, the First Temple was dedicated. Seven years after the commencement of its building, which was the eleventh of King Shelomoh’s (Solomon) reign, in the eighth month of the year, the Temple was completed (1Ki_6:38). In the following year, in the seventh month, King Shelomoh brought the Ark of the Covenant into the Temple (1Ki_8:2-4, 2Ch_5:3-7) and the Temple was dedicated at the Festival of Sukkot for seven days (see 1Ki_8:65-66, 2Ch_7:8-11, also Antiquities of the Jews, Book 8:4:1).
However, not many people know that Chag Sukkot, the Festival of the Booths, is also called “Festival of Light” named so after other festival. Which is this festival?
In the time of the Maccabees, a festival of the dedication (Heb. chanukah) of the Temple was celebrated by the Jews after the manner of Chag Sukkot, the Festival of the Booths.
After the revolt of the Maccabees against the despotic rule of Antiochus Epiphanes in 165 BC, they recovered the Temple and Jerusalem, cleansed it on the very same day it was profaned on the twenty-fifth day of the ninth month of Kislev. The Maccabees made another Altar because the old one was profaned by the Greeks with slaughtering of pigs on it. They kept eight days with gladness, remembering that not long afore they had held Chag Sukkot, the Festival of the Booths, when they wandered in the mountains hiding from the Greeks.
When the leader of the Jews, Judas Maccabee, had taken the Temple mount, they determined to keep the last festival which they had missed; that festival was Sukkot. That seemed very well to them, because the First Temple was dedicated by King Shelomo at Chag Sukkot, the Festival of the Booths.
They ordained by a common statute and decree that every year those days should be kept of the whole nation of the Jews as a solemn festival which we now know as Chanukah (Dedication). During the Festival of Dedication of the Temple, candles are lit every evening to commemorate Maccabee’s victory over Greeks. All of this is recorded in the Book of 2 Maccabees (2Ma_10:5-8).
This tradition was kept at the time of Yeshua the Messiah well recorded in Joh_10:22.
At that time the Chanukkah came to be in Yerushalayim, and it was winter. And Yeshua was walking in the Set-apart Place, in the porch of Shelomoh. (Joh 10:22-23)
According to m.Sukkah 5:2–4 and b.Sukkah 52b, in the first century Judea the entire city of Jerusalem was filled with light from giant seventy-five feet tall menorahs.
But a few months earlier Yeshua said,
“I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall by no means walk in darkness, but possess the light of life.” (Joh 8:12)
That occasion was Chag Sukkot, the Festival of the Booths (see Joh_7:2).
In conclusion of the matter, we studied that we are told to dwell in sukkot for seven days, all born in Israel shall dwell in sukkot, so that our generations may know that YHVH made the children of Israel dwell in the cloud of glory, when He brought them out of the land of Egypt, so that we may also dwell in the cloud of glory. (Lev 23:39-43)
The next article is dedicated to the Festival of Sukkot and the Messiah.
This article is a part of series of articles dedicated to the Appointed Times of YHVH and how His Messiah Yeshua has fulfilled them. For the rest of the set-apart days of the Creator, please, visit The Appointed Times of YHVH.
May we merit seeing the coming of our Mashiach speedily in our days.