A Biblical Perspective by Rabbi Percy Johnson
Rav Netanel ben Yochanan רב נתנאל בן יוחנן
The seven Moedim or Biblical Festivals in the Torah are celebrations rich with meaning and are designed to bring us back into a relationship with our Creator and in some ways they give us hints about the Mashiach or Messiah. Each Yom Tov – Holy Day is a Shabbat , a day of rest and is a holy* day on which no work is permitted, not by us, our servants, our hired hands, or “ger toshav” or the foreigner dwelling among us .
*“kadosh” – separated for God
These festivals were handed down by the Creator to Moshe for the people of Israel who in turn were given the mandate of carrying them to all the nations. “God spoke to Moses and said ‘Speak to the children of Israel and say to them concerning the feasts of the Lord, which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, these are my feasts.” Vayikra (Leviticus) 23:2
They were to be celebrated by both Jew and Gentile not symbolically or simply for the sake of demonstration but in obedience to Torah. There was never meant to be a separation between Jew and Gentile in the worship of the one and only God of Israel. Bamidbar (Numbers) 15:15-16
1) Shabbat — the Sabbath is the first and most important of the festivals and which encompasses all the other feasts. It is to be observed every seventh day from Friday at sunset to Saturday at sunset. Vayikra (Leviticus) 23:3
Mashiach Yeshua said “Do not imagine that I have come to abolish the Torah or the Prophets…” clearly demonstrating that nothing was changed and that Shabbat is still to be observed in the same way that it was when handed down to our people.
2) Pesach — is the second festival and is observed for seven days. It is combined with the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
“In the fourteenth day of the first month at evening is the LORD’s Pesach. On the fifteenth day of the same month is the Feast of Unleavened Bread to the LORD; seven days you must eat unleavened bread.” Vayikra (Leviticus) 23:5
As an Israelite, Yeshua observed Pesach with his family and his talmidim.
3) Rishonim Bikurim — (First Fruits) also known as Sfirat haOmer (Counting of the Omer) is the third festival and is observed one day after Feast of Unleavened Bread. Vayikra 23:10
4) Shavuot — (Pentecost) is the fourth in this set of festivals and is observed seven Sabbaths plus one day or fifty days after Pesach. It is also celebrated as the day on which our Creator presented the Torah, to Moses and the children of Israel on Mt. Sinai. Vayikra 23: 16
These festivals which take place in the spring (in the northern hemisphere) are understood by biblical scholars to have been fulfilled by Mashiach ben Yosef (Messiah son of Joseph).
According to our sages there are two Mashiachs, ben Yosef, the suffering servant and ben David, the triumphant Messiah. Those of us who believe that Yeshua ben Yosef has already come are looking forward to his return as the victorious King Messiah, son of David, Mashiach ben David.
5) Yom ha Teruah — (the day of the blowing of the shofar), also renamed by our sages as Rosh Hashanah (the head of the year or Jewish new Year) is the first of the Fall Festivals and begins the first day of the Hebrew month Tishrei. Vayikra 23:24
According to our tradition it is celebrated as the Jewish New Year. Our sages say that Creation took place at this time of the year as well as the Akeda or the binding of Yitzchak (Isaac), a beautiful picture of Mashiach. Bereshit (Gen) 22 Yom Teruah begins the cycle of Teshuva (repentance and return) when we are to take a moral inventory of our soul. These are days of complete rest; no work is to be done. The first blast of the shofar is the call to attention of something significant that is about to be announced.
6) Yom Kippur — (Day of Atonement) Although it has been our tradition to fast on Yom Kippur when we seek God’s forgiveness, the Torah does not refer to fasting but rather to afflicting our souls. It is a time for us to make restitution for what we have done wrong and for be restored. Vayikra 23:27-28
In Judaism it is said that Ha Sefer ha Chaim—the Book of Life is opened at Yom haTeruah, that our names are written in the Book on Yom Kippur and then sealed on Sukkoth. This Book of Life was referred to by Moshe, Daniel, Melech David (King David,), Rabbi Shaul (Paul) and Yochanan. Exodus 32:33; Psalm 69:27; Daniel 12:1; Philippians 4:3
“And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire. “ Chazon: 20:12-15
7) Sukkoth — (Festival of Booths) 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 things.
These fall festivals have two aspects, one in which we are being judged and the other freedom and forgiveness on the seventh day when we celebrate Hoshanah Rabah, the great day of salvation. The 8th day is Shemini Atzeret the day 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 light to all the nations.
Now allow me to point out some simple and very significant facts about the last festival which I call the beginning of the end and a new beginning…in the next few pages you will read why.
“‘But on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered the produce of the land, you are to observe the festival of THE LORD seven days; the first day is to be a complete rest and the eighth day is to be a complete rest. On the first day you are to take choice fruit, palm fronds, thick branches and river-willows, and celebrate it in the presence of THE LORD your God for seven days. You are to observe it as a feast to THE LORD seven days in the year; it is a permanent regulation, generation after generation; keep it in the seventh month. You are to live in sukkot for seven days; every citizen of Israel is to live in a sukkah, so that generation after generation of you will know that I made the people of Israel live in sukkot when I brought them out of the land of Egypt; I am THE LORD your God.'” Vayikra (Leviticus) 23:39-42
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. The people of Israel living in the land 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 40 years of wandering 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. 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. Hebrew is a language of pictures and the Torah contains many mosaics for us to see when we stand back and see it as a whole. If we get too close trying to dissect every word and take things too literally, we get lost in the forest for the trees.
One method that our Hebrew sages use to interpret the Scriptures is the acronym — PaRDeS: It represents 4 levels of understanding of any given passage.
P stands for Peshat giving us the direct meaning of the passage
R for Remez gives us a hint or allegory on the subject
D for Drash is the teaching that we receive with the practical application in our lives
S for Sod alludes to the hidden or mystical meaning.
In light of Peshat many hidden treasures are revealed as we examine some elements of Sukkoth. Our sages created a tradition taking elements from Vayikra (Levi) 23:40 for the celebration of this festival:
✡Hadassah— Myrtle (Flowering shrubs that grow by the river)
✡Arov— Willow tree
✡Etrog— a choice fruit (From the family of the lemon)
✡These names are not mentioned in Vayikra.
The Lulav and the Etrog were waved ceremonially alerting Israel to be on the lookout for a special announcement.
A Remez (hint) of meaning are drawn from these four elements in the Sukkoth ceremony.
The Lulav played an important role at Passover when Yeshua entered Jerusalem and a great crowd went out to meet him. They waved the Lulav to their Messiah crying out “Hoshianah, Baruch habah b’Shem Melech Mashiach – (Save us! Blessed is He that comes in the name of The LORD, King Messiah.” Yochanan 12: 12-13
The people were expecting Mashiach ben David, the victorious Mashiach to free them from the tyranny of the Romans. They did not want Yeshua as Mashiach ben Yosef, (Messiah son of Joseph), the suffering servant of Isaiah 52:13 –53:12. However his role was to bring his people, who had strayed far from the Torah back to the simple truths of Torah. In this way they would be able to fulfill their purpose of being “ohr l’goyim”, a light to the nations. Though he fulfilled his role, they were not ready for this type of Messiah. Today we are all waiting for Mashiach ben David to come.
A Drash of these four elements is that they represent “four types of believers” in God: Traditionally “aroma” is said to represent “good works and “taste” to represent “faith”.
The Lulav bears fruit with no aroma but has taste representing the superficially spiritual or self-righteous person filled with his own faith but lacking in good works.
The Hadassah or myrtle has a beautiful aroma but no taste painting a picture of the very religious person busy with performing good works but having little faith.
The Arov has neither aroma nor taste representing a person with neither good works nor faith.
The Etrog, having both aroma and taste represents the true believer in God with faith resulting in good works.
The Sod of Sukkoth describes these elements as representations or symbols of war pointing to that day in the future when all nations will gather for war against Israel. The Etrog represents a shield and the Lulav a sword. Hebrew often pictures opposite and dual meanings for the same elements. The four species, waved before the Lord, can symbolize praise and rejoicing and war, picturing the triumphant return of Mashiach ben David.
Sukkoth announces the coming of Messiah through the use of the elements of water and light both of which have spiritual significance.
“For I shall take you from among the nations and gather you back from all the countries and bring you home to your own country. I shall pour clean water over you and you will be cleansed…” Yechezk’el (Ezek) 36:24-25
Water and wine Ceremony
During Sukkoth, a Cohen (Priest) accompanied by a musical procession, would draw water from the pool of Shiloach (Siloam) into a golden pitcher. He would enter the Temple through the Water gate and go up the rise of the altar, where there were two silver basins. Into these basins, the wine of the drink offering and the water from Siloam were poured. The Temple music began and the cohanim would shake the Lulav toward the altar in thanks God and calling out for redemption. The pouring of the wine can also be said to represent our rejoicing in celebration of God’s bounty. The water, can have both a double and opposite meaning, representing both judgment and cleansing from wrong doings (teshuva). In the Messianic Writings Yochanan (John) 7: 37-39 speaks of the last day of Sukkoth, Hoshana Rabah, as being the great day of Deliverance.
The Torah is living water and also light. Sukkoth is the festival of water and light which represent the faithfulness of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in such a beautiful way. God asks us to be light in the world and to be like the latter rains which bring life to the soil. We are the seeds He planted and waters to grow as He pours out his Mayim Chaim (Living Waters) upon our thirsty souls.
Yeshua was declaring Himself to be the Messiah when he said “I shall pour out (living) water on a thirsty soul” in fulfillment of Isaiah 44:3. All Israel was expecting their Mashiach to be revealed.
Nicodemus, a Pharisee went to see Yeshua under cover of night to ask him to explain the miracles he had seen Yeshua perform which he knew were signs that could only be from God in the same way that Moshe performed miracles done by God. They were simply the instruments which God Almighty used to perform His miracles. Yeshua responded to Nicodemus with the symbols of water and light related with the festival of Sukkoth. In so doing, Yeshua was challenging Nicodemus as an important teacher in Israel that he should have known that Yeshua was pointing to the prophecy in Ezekiel 36:24-27.
Finally we see this beautiful picture of flowing water which represents the future fulfillment of tikkun olam (the restored world) through our Messiah Yeshua in Chazon (Revelation) 22:1 — “the river of life rising from the throne of God and flowing crystal clear”.
The Element of Light
As the first day of Sukkoth drew to a close, the cohanim and Levites descended to the court of the women where there were four golden Menorahs each with four golden bowls. Four boys holding pitchers of oil would climb ladders and drench discarded garments of the cohanim in the oil. These, placed as wicks were used to kindle the lamps. The menorahs were seventy feet high and were lit up at night for seven days. The people from the surrounding nations could see the light from the temple glowing brilliantly for miles around. For seven days in Israel it was as if there was no night.
The number 7 in Gematria represents God in His fullness, and the 7th day, Shabbat, represents God’s eternal rest “and night will be abolished; they will not need lamplight or sunlight, because the Lord God will be shining on them.” Revelation 21: 23
With this wonderful picture of God’s eternal light, Yochanan had Bereshit in mind concerning darkness and light. He often spoke about the festival of Sukkoth especially in chapters 7 to 9 which describe Yeshua’s fulfillment of Sukkoth. Sukkoth was one of the “Shalosh Regalim” (three Pilgrimage Festivals) during which God asked the Hebrew men to go up to Jerusalem to bring their offerings to the Temple. Ex.23:14-17; Deut. 16:16
In Yochanan 7 we read that at this festival, Yeshua’s brothers prodded him to go the Temple to reveal to everyone that he was indeed the Redeemer of Israel. His own brothers were challenging him to prove that he was who he claimed to be. They themselves did not yet believe that he was the Messiah. When Yeshua did go to the Temple he went in secret knowing that the corrupt rulers of the day were looking to kill him.
Yeshua said to the people “I am the light of the world; anyone who follows me will not be walking in the dark but will have the Torah, the light of life.” Yochanan 8:12
(Ref: Mishnah: Sukkah 5:1-4, or “The Sukkoth/Simchat Torah Anthology” by Philip Goodman)
Yeshua as the Messiah brought the Torah back to his people. This was the role of the Messiah. Mattityahu (Matthew) 5:17-19
The Birth of Messiah Yeshua
When was Yeshua born? Was he really born on Christmas day December 25th These questions need to be addressed and several clues are revealed to us in the book of Luke. In Luke 1:4 we see that Zechariah, the father of Yochanan the Immerser (John the Baptist) served in the Abijah division of the priesthood. According to 1Chronicles 24:10, this division served eighth in the order of service in the Temple. There were 24 divisions of cohanim or priests. Each division served twice a year for one week as well as the full week for each of the three pilgrim festivals — Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkoth. Zechariah’s course of duty would have been during the Hebrew (lunar) month Iyar or approximately May. At this time the Angel Gabriel announced to Zechariah that his wife Elisheva (Elizabeth) would conceive and bear a son. Luke 1:8-13 Since they were elderly, God would perform the miracle similar to Abraham and Sarah. He opened the womb of Elizabeth but Zechariah played his part in the conception of Yochanan which was a strong indication that this child would be given an important role. Thus God performed a miracle with Elizabeth as He had done before with so many of the mothers of Israel. We saw this with the births of Isaac, Jacob, Esau, Leah and Rachel’s children, Samson, Samuel …Yochanan and later Yeshua whose father was Joseph. All of these men would also have been given special roles to perform.
Zechariah would most probably have returned home around the beginning of Sivan (June). In Luke 1:23, we read that Elizabeth remained in solitude for five months. In the sixth month, we read in Luke 1: 26-38 that Gabriel announced to Miriam that she too would conceive, most probably on Kislev 25 (December) or the first day of Hanukkah, the festival where we kindle the lights — the perfect time for the one whose role was to bring his people back to the light of the Torah! Miriam’s pregnancy was a miracle much like the other mothers of Israel.
Miriam left immediately to visit her cousin, Elizabeth (v. 39) and remained there for three months. Assuming that Yochanan was conceived at the beginning of Sivan, he could easily have been born on the first day of Pesach (14th of Nisan) bringing his Brit Milah (circumcision) to the eighth day. His special role would be to announce the coming of the Messiah. To this day, we set a place for Eliyahu at our Pesach Seders in anticipation of his arrival when he will bring with him Mashiach ben David (Messiah son of David). 23 ‘Look, I shall send you the prophet Elijah before the great and awesome Day of the LORD comes. 24 He will reconcile parents to their children and children to their parents, to forestall my putting the country under the curse of destruction.’ Malachi 3: 23-24 Yeshua told us that Yochanan would come in the spirit of Eliyahu (Elijah). Mattityahu 11:13-15; Luke 1:76
Miriam waited six months from Nisan (April) to Tishrei (September or October) to give birth to Yeshua at Beit Lechem (Bethlehem). Having been conceived through Joseph and Miriam around the 25th of Kislev, Yeshua would have been born on the 15th of Tishrei, the first day of Sukkoth.
Our Hebrew sages have long believed that the Torah was life itself and Rabbi Yeshua was and is for us, the living example to follow since he was a man who loved and observed the Torah and worked diligently to bring his people back to the simple principles of the Torah.
Our rabbis have wrestled with the reason for the 8th day which God added to the end of the 7 days of Sukkoth, Shemini Atzeret. We understand that this was Yeshua’s Brit Milah (Vayikra-Leviticus 23:36b). If a boy dies before his Brit Milah, he is not considered a Jew. “For out of Zion would shine forth the Torah” (Isa.2:3) and Yeshua was the one who would lead the way. At Sukkoth, the men of Israel were required to come to the Temple at Jerusalem from all parts of the country.
In that particular year, Herod decreed that everyone had to return to his place of birth to register for the census, so Joseph and Miriam traveled to Beit Lechem, their home town in fulfillment of the prophecy in Micah 5:1. But you (Bethlehem) Ephrata, the least of the clans of Judah, from you will come for me a future ruler of Israel whose origins go back to the distant past, to the days of old.
They found no room to stay due to the crowds of people traveling for the Festival. Every home would have had a Sukkah so it was in one of these that Miriam and Joseph would have found shelter that night and in which Miriam gave birth to Yeshua. The shepherds who came to see them were out guarding their flocks, likely in preparation for the Sukkoth offerings at the Temple. It would have taken place before the end of October, since the winter months are too cold in Israel for the shepherds to keep their flocks out in the fields.
Sukkoth is for the Nations
From the beginning God’s plan of redemption included the Gentile 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 amount 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 amount 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 means 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.
On the 7h day of Sukkoth we are to celebrate Hoshana Rabah, the Great Day of Deliverance when Yeshua stood and cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and anyone who believes in me, come and drink for as the Scripture says, from his heart shall flow stream of living water (Mayim Chaim). Yochanan 7:37-38
Yeshua also said…’ that salvation comes from the Jews’ (Yochanan 4:22, Isa. 2:3), thus bringing a fuller meaning to Hoshana Rabah being the Great Day of Deliverance. Our people had strayed from the simple truth of Torah and Messiah’s role was to bring our people back so that we could fulfill our mandate of bringing Torah to all the nations.
The 8th day is Shemini Atzeret and our sages say that this is the day that is set apart only for Israel. The Gentile nations certainly don’t need to be jealous about Israel’s being chosen since the first 7 days are given by God 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 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 the Gentile nations.
The number 8 in Gematria signifies new beginnings and I like to say that our God is a God of beginning again. It doesn’t matter how much we have failed; our failures are our best teachers. The best example of this is to see the progress of children who are first learning to walk. They have more difficulty if the parent is always there behind them not allowing them to fall. This love smothers and doesn’t allow them to grow. Our heavenly Father trusts us; He has given us free will with clear instructions about what is right and wrong in our lives. In the end it is our responsibility to obey, not His.
Sukkoth is the time to acknowledge that our God 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 we don’t have enough, He satisfies our needs; when we think 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.
All the festivals are to remind us of what God has done for us. We have a prayer to our heavenly Father in which we see Sukkoth as a universal festival … “Our Father in Heaven, in antiquity our ancestors used to sacrifice to you on the Festival of Succot seventy sacrifices for the peace and well-being of the nations of the world. And we, your holy people Israel, implore you on this sacred festival, from Jerusalem the city of peace, from Zion the seat of your glory: Please have mercy on the countries and nations, and keep them from war that destroys the world, your land. We beseech You, King of Peace, instill speedily in the hearts of all the nations a spirit of peace and brotherhood to unanimously seal a covenant of peace for evermore, as is Your Destiny in the words of Your holy prophets in the vision of the End of Days, Amen and Amen”.
(Siddur Tefillat Yesharim, according to the Sephardic tradition, Jerusalem)
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…
Written by Rabbi Percy Johnson. All rights reserved. No part of this booklet may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without the written permission of the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.
Compiled and edited by Peggy Pardo; Updated December 2016
Copyright © 2005 of Kehilat She’ar Yashuv
The Scripture quotations contained herein are from the New Jerusalem Bible
published by Doubleday copyright © 1985
by Darton, Longman and Todd Ltd.