The Historical Message of Succot

Introduction

The basic precept given to the Jewish nation in the above scriptural passage is that God is One for all times. He is the One who revealed Himself to His people, Israel, through His prophet Moses, when Israel were slaves in Egypt (as narrated in the Pessach Festival), and the same One who revealed Himself in the opening words of the Ten Commandments,

"I am the Lord Your God"

which formed the basis for the Giving of the Torah - Religious Law.

He is the same God who looked after His people through their long and difficult wanderings in the desert of Sinai.

The Jewish religion imparts this message to its people through the use of symbolism and ritual. In this way, Jewish history and the lessons to be learned from it are stamped on the national and individual consciousness of each Jew. Symbolism and ritual are incorporated in the celebration of festivals at appointed times.

THE FESTIVAL OF TABERNACLES (or Booths) of which there are numerous references in the Bible is one of five festivals that were known as

"Feasts of the Lord, even holy convocations which you shall proclaim in their seasons."

These festivals fall into two groups comprising the Days of Awe (Yamim Noraim) and the three Pilgrim Festivals (Shalosh Regalim).




The Three Pilgrim Festivals (Shalosh Regalim)

The Three Festivals consist of Passover (Pesach), the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot) and the Feast of Tabernacles (or Booths) (Sukkot). The name Shalosh Regalim derives its origin from the following Biblical verse:

"Three times you shall keep a feast for me in the year"

(Exodus 23,14)

Within the word "regalim" however, is also expressed the idea of a journey on foot or a pilgrimage, an important element in the celebration of these three festivals.

"Three times every year shall your menfolk appear before the Lord your God in the place that He will choose, in the feast of Pesach, in the feast of Shavuot, and in the Feast of Sukkot."

(Deuteronomy 16,16)

The three festivals have the following characteristics in common:

  • They serve as a means of symbolizing essential religious and ethical ideas,
    • Pesach - The existence of God (to free the Jews from bondage
    • Shavuot - Revelation (God's Law was given to them)
    • Sukkot - Divine Providence (intercepted and helped them to overcome insuperable difficulties)
  • They refer to important events in Jewish history
  • They mark and celebrate the various harvests
    • Pesach - the early barley harvest
    • Shavuot - a wheat and fruit harvest
    • Sukkot - the ingathering of grain and fruit harvests

These ideas are naturally fundamental and express the traditional interpretation of this aspect of the religious nature of Judaism, which sees in the Exodus from Egypt and the miracles associated with them the physical and spiritual birth of the people of Israel.




Nation and belief

The total, collective national experience of the people, served to authenticate for them the revelational and visionary claims of the patriarchs as well as those of Moses. God's redeeming acts on behalf of Israel, are the grounds of His special claims upon this people.

The reciprocal obedience demanded of the Jews, however, was more than the naive submission of the child to the father, of the lover to the object of his desire. Created in the image of One God, the Jew had the task of cooperating in the process of Creation. He was to emulate God through associating himself with the moral codes of justice and righteousness expressed in God's Religious Law.

Thus, the transition period, between the Exodus from Egypt to the establishment of a nation in the Land of Canaan, has to be seen as a socialization and consolidating period of the Jewish nation. As a nation governed and administered by priests, the children of Israel were to become a "light unto the nations."




Faith and Practice

This was the message of monotheism which the People of Israel received in their wandering through the desert, exposed to physical and material hardships, to the unpredictable elements of nature. As dependent as they were, in the desert, on the caprices of nature and its routine of seasons, yet it was not the laws of nature they were to worship as did the pagans and other peoples, but the Laws of God.

The Festival of Sukkot, like other festivals at their appointed times, serves to remind the Jewish people that they are marked off from all other forms of worship such as polytheism, pantheism and paganism. Other nations served many gods identified with nature, with their associated cruelties and abundances, but the Sukkah, that frail and temporary booth, was a symbol of God's glory, calling upon the Jewish people then as now, to affirm their trust and faith in an infinite and eternal God of history.

It calls upon them to strengthen that faith absorbed by the first generation of Israel during their long nights and days in the desert of Sinai.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT:

The materials in this file have been adapted from the "SUCCOT" folder written and produced by the former Publications Division of the Youth and Hechalutz Department, WZO


 

 

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08 Jun 2005 / 1 Sivan 5765 0