Sukkoth or “Z’man Simchateinu” (The time of our rejoicing) is a festival of remembrance and rejoicing for the miracles that God has performed for us and how He has preserved us. Also known as Hag Asif – חַג אָסִיף –— Festival of the Ingathering is the culmination of all the Biblical festivals. I call Sukkoth the “Festival of the End and the Beginning Again.”
This time of the High Holidays is very heavy and spiritually charged when we are tested in every area of our lives. The most important thing for us to do is to take the time to search within and to deal with those areas that are eating us up. We are held back from growing until we do that. Yom Kippur, the peak of searching within is over, yet many of us have not completed dealing with our past.
These fall festivals have two aspects, one – we are being judged and the other –we find freedom and forgiveness on the seventh day at Hoshanah Rabah, the great day of salvation. The 8th day is Shemini Atzeret, the day on which our sages say is the day set apart for Israel alone while the other seven days are for the rest of the nations.
We end with the acceptance that there are areas in our lives that need work and give ourselves the opportunity to continue the cycle of renewal. Sukkoth signifies the festival of renewal in which the people of Israel have been given the responsibility of being ohr l’goyim, light to all the nations.
The people living in the land of Israel are to build a temporary, booth-like structure outside the home called a Sukkah, in which they are to eat and sleep for seven days. Its roof is covered with branches so that the stars can be seen when looking up, to understand that God can always see us. It is a reminder of the fragility of our temporary lives and of how reliant we are upon Him for shelter and protection. Outside the land the sukkah is optional. The sukkah also reminds us of the 40 years we wandered in the desert on our way from Egypt to the Promised Land. When we lived in temporary shelters in the desert, dependence upon God was total. Sukkoth was one of the “Shalosh Regalim” (Three Pilgrimage Festivals) during which the Bore Olam asked the Israelites to go up to Jerusalem to bring their offerings to the Temple (Ex.23:14-17; Deut. 16:16). This festival is very exciting when understood in the context of the culture and language of the people to whom and when it was given, and it still applies to us today.
From the beginning, God’s plan of redemption included all the nations. If we read the offerings in Bamidbar (Numbers) 29 carefully, we will see that on the first day, 13 bulls, 2 rams and 14 lambs were offered. Every day for 7 days, one bull less was offered while the number of rams and lambs remained the same. If we simply look at the rams and lambs in comparison with the regular offerings during the year, we will see that they consisted of a “double” portion giving us the idea that this festival would be a very special one.
According to the rabbis when we add the number of bulls offered for the full 7 days, it adds up to the number 70 which in Gematria points to the inclusion of all the nations of the world since 70 represents all the Gentile languages. We may say then that the Torah was given to Israel whose role it was to be “ohr l’goyim” אור לגויים (light to the nations) (Isa. 49: 6; 63 and to share the Torah with the world. Thus, Sukkoth becomes the festival in which Israel has the responsibility of being a light to all the nations. The latter rains mean cleansing; the wine represents the joy of the season and the light means illumination. In the end, we can look forward to all the nations being united – this is a message of universality.
The 8th day is Shemini Atzeret and our sages say that this is the day that is set apart only for Israel. The others nations certainly don’t need to be jealous about Israel’s being chosen since the first 7 days are given by the Bore Olam for them with all the bulls and double portions of rams and lambs offered for them while on Shemini Atzeret there would be only 1 bull, 1 ram and 7 lambs offered for Israel.
Shemini Atzeret thus becomes the Festival reserved just for Israel. Our sages like the idea and explain it this way — when the king hosts a wedding, he invites guests from all over the world and they celebrate for days. Then on the last day, the king invites only his close family and his inner court to a small and intimate thanksgiving party to show them how grateful he is to them. This is the idea of Shemini Atzeret for Israel.
Jews around the world complete the Festival with Simchat Torah — “Rejoicing with the Torah” when we remove the scrolls from the ark and dance around the synagogues with them, holding them close to our hearts. Simchat Torah is a beautiful rabbinic tradition that would be wonderful to share with all nations.
Sukkoth is the time to acknowledge that our Creator has given us everything we need. When we are in the Sukkah, the flimsy temporary booth, we are led to understand that He is our true covering. When we feel that we don’t have enough, He satisfies our needs; when we think that we are totally destroyed, He rebuilds our lives. That is His promise to his people. Yes, He wants the best for us and from us and when we take responsibility and choose correctly there is a reward; not because we behaved well but because being responsible brings its own rewards.
In Zechariah 14 to the end, we read of how every nation will go to Jerusalem to worship the God of Israel and to celebrate Sukkoth…14:9 And the LORD shall be King over all the earth; in that day, shall The LORD be One, and His name one… 16 And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations that came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, The LORD of hosts, and to keep the feast of Sukkoth…“
Chag Sukkoth Sameach Ranebi רנב”י Rabbi Netanel ben Yochanan