SUKKOT – FEAST OF TABERNACLES – Part 2

THE FOUR SPECIES

After the sukkah, the most visible elements associated with the celebration of the festival of Sukkot are the Arba Minim, the Four Species. While the sukkah is a reminder of the temporary nature of our journey and the need for God’s supernatural provision and protection in the wilderness, the four species are related to the Land and fruitfulness, to settled productivity.

There are seven species specifically connected with the Land of Israel, which many people use in some way as decorative items in the sukkah. These are wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates, as listed in Deuteronomy 8:8. The successful growth of each of these crops is entirely dependent on the weather patterns and the provision and timing of the seasonal rainfall. As these are in the hands of the Creator, prayers are said at the end of Sukkot for His timely provision of rain. The prophet Zechariah also makes a millennial connection with the Feast and rain: “And if any of the families of the earth do not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of Hosts, there will be no rain upon them” (14:17).

The particular four species gathered together for Sukkot are: the lulav (an unopened palm branch), hadassim (three myrtle branches), aravot (two willow branches), and the etrog (the citron). Customarily, the branches are placed together in a special holder of woven palm fronds and are held together with the etrog when praying special prayers. They also are waved in a specific manner before God. This is done in response to the commandment:

You shall take on the first day the fruit of goodly trees, branches of palm trees, and boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook; and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days.
(Leviticus 23:40)

Sukkot 2 - 1*The Four Species – Palm frond, myrtle and willow branches and an etrog.
Note: The picture was taken near the end of the week! The palm frond starts out greener and closed.

A well-known rabbinic analogy compares the four species to four types of believers in God.

  1. The beautiful, shining etrog is a fruit that has both taste and fragrance. It represents the person who is both learned in knowledge of the Torah and who lives what he learns; he studies and walks in obedience to the commandments of God.
  2. The lulav is part of the palm tree, the fruit of which has taste but no fragrance. This represents one who studies the Scriptures and has knowledge of God but does not have the deeds to match. In modern vernacular, he does not “walk the talk”.
  3. The hadassim, myrtle branches, have fragrance but no taste and represent those who do many good deeds but have little knowledge of the Torah or teaching of God.
  4. The aravah, willow, has neither taste not fragrance and represents the believer who has not studied and gained knowledge of God and also has not grown spiritually by performing mitzvot, the good deeds taught in God’s Word such as prayer, charity, hospitality, etc..

When the four species are gathered together and lifted before God, the Father of all, they are a powerful symbol of unity. Although people have varying strengths and weaknesses, when they come together and are united as one before God, they are elevated in His love and gain victory over the foe – which I like to consider as an acronym for the force of estrangement – that divides and weakens. In unity, we can strengthen and encourage one another in our service to our Father, and we receive His blessing.

Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!
…For there the Lord has commanded the blessing, life for evermore. (Psalm 133:1-3)

On Hoshanah Rabbah, the last day of the week of Sukkot, the willow branches are separated and beaten on the ground. Not many, if any, leaves remain on the branches, which are now wilted and weakened. This can symbolize the casting off of our sins, which have been atoned for by our Savior and Redeemer. Also, it is a vivid challenge that one not be content with being a willow-branch believer, but rather, in the year ahead, to grow in knowledge and understanding of the Word and in the doing of it. May we aspire to live a life that is both fruitful and fragrant!

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A Whole and Holy Body

The combination of the three types of branches of the lulav together with the etrog provides an interesting illustration of parts of one’s physical body. Thus, when holding them together and lifting them before God, we can understand that we are offering our very selves to Him. As our Father in Heaven, we gratefully thank Him for the life He has given us and, acknowledging Him as King, we yield our bodies to His service.

The lulav, the long, straight, slender palm branch, is placed in the center and depicts the spine, which holds all the limbs of the body in place and in alignment. Through His loving grace and atoning mercy in Yeshua, we can stand upright and strong in His Presence.

During the forty year journey through the wilderness, palm trees would have been a most welcome sight to the Israelites. Their tall, waving branches signaled water and a place to settle and rest from their travels. The tree God chose to adorn the walls of His Temple were palm trees, indicating the place that contained the resting place of His Presence and the ‘living water’ of His Word – the oasis of our strength and sustenance.

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Myrtle leaves (top) Willow leaves (bottom)

The hadassim, myrtle branches, placed to the right of the palm branch when holding the lulav, have shining, green leaves that are shaped like eyes. They remind us that we are to guard our eyes, for what we focus on and see with our eyes will inform our minds and hearts. We should regularly keep them fixed on His Word in order to study, to gain understanding, and to grow in healthy and holy relationship with Him and with one another.

The aravot, willow branches, placed on the left of the lulav, have leaves in the shape of lips, the gates of our speech. Often this is an area of greatest weakness. The willow tree needs much water to stay healthy and strong; our minds, that inform our speech and the use of our tongue, likewise need to be constantly strengthened and refreshed with the living water of the Word. When our lips are yielded to our Father then our words, which represent our attitudes and thoughts, will be filled with His praises and will speak His words of love and truth.

A shining, fragrant etrog.

A shining, fragrant etrog.

The etrog is considered to be the pri etz hadar, the fruit of goodly trees, as listed in Leviticus 23: 40. The word hadar means ‘that which dwells’; thus the fruit is interpreted to be fruit that dwells continuously all year on the tree. It implies permanence, similar to the English word, ‘endure’. The etrog (citron) tree fulfils this requirement of constant dwelling, for most other fruits are seasonal but the etrog blossoms and produces fruit throughout all the seasons. It stubbornly perseveres in the heat and the cold, in wind and storm. It endures! This persistence adds depth to its beauty.

The fragrant etrog has the shape of a heart, indicating the organ that maintains our life; and which represents the very place of our Savior and Lord’s life in us. With His Spirit of Holiness indwelling and empowering us, we can persevere through life’s difficulties, we can proclaim the victory of life over death, and celebrate the promise and hope of an eternity in the glorious Presence of God. The etrog also has the shape of a flame, a symbol of God’s Word and His Spirit. May His Word indeed be written on our hearts by His Spirit of holiness; then they will be purified like gold and we will shine for His glory!

The Shaking of the Lulav

When the three branches are joined together they are simply referred to as “the lulav”. They are traditionally held together with the etrog and shaken as part of one’s prayer. The gentle shaking indicates trembling in awe as one stands before the wondrous Presence of the Almighty God. The rustle of the leaves reminds us of the soft wind of His Spirit that is ever present in our lives. As the lulav can represent both one’s physical body and the Body of believers, it becomes a spiritual ‘weapon’ of unity against the forces of evil that constantly try to prevail against the Kingdom of God. The lulav is held and shaken in six directions – North, South, East, West, up and down – which proclaims God as Creator of all and to indicate that His Kingdom stretches to the ends of the earth and to the heavens. [1]

The action involves holding the lulav upright in the generally stronger right hand (with palm branch in the middle, myrtle branches on the right and the willow on the left) and the etrog in the left hand, the side of one’s heart. Facing toward the East, draw them close to the chest, indicating the identification with one’s self, then extend your arms forward while pointing the lulav and gently shake it three times, just enough to hear a rustle of the leaves. Then turn clockwise 90 degrees to face South and repeat the procedure, followed by turns to the West and North. Then, facing East once again, raise the lulav up to the heavens and then down to the earth, each time it shaking three times. This is a powerful proclamation of God’s promise of His Salvation reaching to all the earth:

* Who has ascended to heaven and come down? …Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is His name, and what is His Son’s name? Surely you know! Every word of God proves true; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him (Proverbs 30:4-5).

* My eyes have seen Thy salvation which Thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the gentiles (all the nations), and for glory to Thy people Israel (Luke 2:30-32).

It also is a prophetic action, anticipating the promises of full Redemption that await fulfillment:

* All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to YHWH; and all the families of the nations shall worship before Him. For dominion belongs to YHWH, and he rules over the nations (Psalm 22:27-28).

* As Thy Name, O God, so Thy praise reaches to the ends of the earth. Thy right hand is filled with victory; let Mount Zion be glad!
(Psalm 48:10-11)

* And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then YHWH will send out the angels, and gather His elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven (Mark 13:26-27).

You can proclaim these five verses as you face in the different directions and proclaim a resounding “HalleluYah!” at the last, facing down towards the earth. May all the earth praise Him indeed!

Joyful Dwelling

As we gather and raise the lulav and etrog, and shake them in all directions, we depict the commitment of ourselves and our material resources – the work of our hands, as it were – to God. It also represents our devotion to God in our praise and proclamation of His Word and Kingship.

The sukkah, on the other hand, reminds us of God’s commitment and devotion to us and how we are encircled by the “clouds of glory” of His protection and Presence. The portable nature of the sukkah points to the desire of God to dwell among us as His people. Immediately after Moses descended on Yom Kippur from Sinai bearing God’s atonement and forgiveness for the sin of the Golden Calf and the second set of stone tablets engraved with His Words – the symbol of His lasting covenant with His people – He instructed the building of His sukkah, the Mishkan, or Tabernacle (Exodus 25:8).

Once the permanent dwelling of His Holy House, Beit ha’Mikdash, was built in Jerusalem, a total of seventy sacrifices were made on the altar during Sukkot, corresponding to the traditional count of the number of the nations in the world. [2] This signified, as foretold by the prophet Zechariah, that in the end of days all things shall be Kadosh le’YHWH, “Holy to the Lord,” and all the nations will go up to Jerusalem on Sukkot to worship the God of Israel:

Every one that survives of all the nations that have come against Jerusalem shall go up year after year to worship the King, Adonai Tzevaot, the Lord of Hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles (14:16).

It is a great prophetic blessing that, since God’s restoration of Israel, and of His people to the Land, thousands of Christian representatives from many nations of the world, even from the farthest corners and islands, go up to Jerusalem to celebrate Sukkot every year. [3] What joy there will be when, according to another prophet, Messiah will take up his throne in Jerusalem and “the knowledge of God will cover the earth as the waters cover the seabed” (Isaiah 11:9) and all nations shall rejoice together with Israel at the great and glorious Festival of Sukkot. HalleluYah!

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 ~Keren Hannah Pryor

Footnotes:

1. As it can be viewed as a ‘weapon’ the lulav is not handled or used on Shabbat.
Please note:
You can order a good set of the lulav and etrog online at Israel Catalog or Judasim.com. Or you can draw and color a cardboard set of your own to practice with!
2. Michael Strassfield, The Jewish Holidays, A Guide and Commentary,Harper & Row, NY,1985, 146.
3. This exciting event is hosted by the International Christian Embassy, Jerusalem. For online information: ICEJ

SUKKOT – FEAST OF TABERNACLES – Part 1

SUKKOT – SEASON OF OUR JOY – A HARVEST FEAST

~ Keren Hannah Pryor

As we approach the week-long festival of Sukkot [soo-koht], we are aware that the seasons are changing. Summer is slowly but surely giving way to the cooler nights and days of Fall. We are reminded that time is divided into years and each year has its seasons, each filled with its unique characteristics and opportunities for change and growth. It is no coincidence that our Creator set each festival in its particular season and specifically appointed the time of its celebration.

Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles, occurs at the time “when the [Fall] harvest is gathered from the fields” (Exodus 23:16); thus, it also is called Chag Ha’Asif, the Festival of Ingathering. This can be understood on a natural, personal and historic level. In the physical world of nature, the crops that were tended during the hot summer months are now ready for harvest and the produce is gathered into storehouses or sold in the markets. The American holiday of Thanksgiving is associated with Sukkot, which was termed Tabernacles by the early Pilgrims.

On a personal and spiritual level, it is a time to survey our inner growth and the work accomplished during the year and gratefully to enjoy the fruits of our labor. The festival also is simply called HaChag, The Feast, because on a wider, historic perspective Sukkot represents the culmination of history, the end of time, when the full spiritual harvest will be gathered at the great and final Redemption. It will be the grand finale of the drama of history!

A sukkah and lulav – 18th century, Dutch painting

Shemini Atzeret, the Eighth Day

A crowning day of celebration called Shemini Atzeret, the Eighth Day of Assembly, is added to the week of Sukkot. Its name points to its significance. The Hebrew number seven, sheva, represents completeness and is related to the word savayah, which means satisfied. We have the opportunity to experience this satisfied completion every week on Shabbat, which recalls the seventh day of Creation when God ceased His work, was satisfied, and set the day apart as holy (Genesis 2:2-3).

The Hebrew number eight is shemoneh, derived from the word shemen, oil or fat. It conveys the concept of increase, a step beyond completion, as pure oil which is derived from a ripened olive, a new beginning. Shemini Atzeret can, therefore, be viewed as a taste of the glorious arrival of the “Day that is all Shabbat” – when Messiah, the King of kings, will establish the Kingdom of God in the earth and will reign from His City, the New Jerusalem that will have “come down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Revelation 21:2). On the Eighth Day we look forward to the eternal, resurrection life promised in Messiah when we all can rejoice in the unity of His Presence and in our redeemed, fully transformed, “new creation” bodies.

In Israel Shemini Atzeret is combined with the celebration of Simchat Torah, Rejoicing in the Torah. In Israel they are observed on the same day, while in the Diaspora (lands outside of Israel) Simchat Torah is held the day after Shemini Atzeret. Without God’s gift of His Word and teaching, His Torah, we could not arrive at the fullness and completion of Redemption that is accomplished in Messiah – the Living Torah, the Word made flesh. In Him, as we walk in the ways and ‘pleasant paths’ of God’s Word, we are transformed from “glory to glory” until the “eighth day” when all Creation ultimately will be redeemed!

Creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God.
(Romans 8:21)

The Lowly Sukkah

Three mitzvot (commandments) are listed in the Torah concerning Sukkot:
(1) building and living in a sukkah (Lev. 23:42-43); (2) gathering together the four species (Lev. 23:40a) and (3) rejoicing during the holiday (Lev. 22:40b).

The sukkah is the most important and visible element of the holiday, apparent in its name Sukkot (plural form of sukkah). The sukkah is constructed during the days immediately following Yom Kippur and it is used for the first time on the Eve of Sukkot when the festival candles are lit and the blessings recited and the first meal is enjoyed in the sukkah.

A question…What does one do if it rains? The sages determined, with much common sense, that as the purpose of the sukkah is beauty, blessing and enjoyment, it is wiser to remain indoors if the weather makes it uncomfortable to be in the sukkah.

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A simple sukkah!

The sukkah must be a temporary dwelling with at least three walls. Existing outside walls can be used. It is generally made of wood, with two by fours used for a frame and thin wooden sheets attached for walls. Easily assembled kits are available in Israel, and can be ordered online, comprised of light metal frames and strong plastic or canvas walls. You can also be creative.

Once, when I lived on a rather remote Israeli kibbutz for a while, I used four wooden poles as a basic frame and strung up sheets for walls (one of which, appropriately, was light blue with white fluffy clouds that reminded me of our Father’s presence that covers us like the sky and His “clouds of glory” that accompanied the Israelites through the wilderness). For the roof, I attached a light wooden trellis square atop the four poles, upon which I lay some cut palm branches. I added a floor rug, a small table covered with a colorful plastic cloth, a chair and a cushion. Then I pinned up some attractive decorations and pictures of Jerusalem and – voila! – a perfect little sukkah, albeit shaky, wherein I could sit and eat, and study and pray, and even squeeze in a guest or two!

Many families construct large and beautiful sukkot, big enough to add couches or mattresses and to sleep in. Great fun for children! I can attest to the fact that no matter the size or the splendor of one’s sukkah the Lord is faithful to meet one there in a unique and special way.

Inside a large family sukkah!

The basic purpose of the sukkah is to remind us of the portability of the dwellings of the Israelites on their wilderness journey. Likewise, our lives are a journey and our security is not in the solid houses we build but in the One who guides and provides for us every step of the way. We deeply consider the reality that, “In Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). The temporary, fragile sukkah thus depicts the nature of our lives. Life on this earth is impermanent and frail, it has a time limit. Like the sukkah, if the weather is sunny and pleasant we feel happy and sheltered. How suddenly this changes if the wind starts to blow, clouds build and a storm closes in to spoil our sukkah or, if severe enough, causes it to collapse altogether.

This vital lesson is emphasized by the roof, which should be made of organic material, something that has grown from the ground but is no longer attached to it. For example, leafy branches, bamboo poles or strips, and even corn stalks can be used. There should be enough covering to ensure more shade than sunlight and one should be able to see the stars through it at night. Then, as we look up we are aware that we are covered by the Heavenly canopy, we are tachat kippot HaShamayim; in fact we are covered by the protective hands of God Himself. Like the sukkah, our physical lives are fragile and fleeting; our goals and focus, however, are upon the infinite and the eternal. Our true home is in the endless Presence of the Creator of all.

Season of our Joy – Zeman Simchateinu

Sukkot is associated with beauty, life and joy. It is the only appointed festival upon which God commands us to be joyful. “You shall rejoice before the Eternal, your God, seven days” (Lev. 22:40). Our Father designed the earthly sukka, or tent, of our body and did not intend that our existence be a vale of tears. Through the trials and sufferings the world brings, He is with us and the faithful promises of His Word enable us to view life in a cheerful and optimistic light. When our hope and trust are in Him, we truly can “Rejoice in the Lord always!” (Philippians 4:4).

The highest point of joyous celebration in the time of the Temple took place during the Water Libation ritual on the day of Hoshana Rabah. It is written in the Mishna: “He who has not seen the rejoicing at the Water Libation has never witnessed true joy!” (Sukkah 5:1).

Beithashoeva

Trumpets sounded and in joyous procession the celebrants would accompany the High Priest to the Pool of Siloam. There he would fill a golden pitcher with water and carry it up to the Holy Temple, where he would ceremoniously pour the water upon the altar. The priestly choir sang and the people praised their Father and King who had cleansed them of their sins a few days before on Yom Kippur and they were now free to go forward in hope and gratitude. They also were aware that the day of ultimate joy was imminent – the Eighth Day, with its promise of the arrival of Messiah and the fullness of God’s Kingdom. It was at this crescendo of the water poring ceremony that Yeshua, standing in the Temple Courts, loudly proclaimed:

If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the Scripture has said, “Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.”
(John 7:37-38)

What an awesome revelation for those whose hearts could receive him!

Additional Customs

Other Sukkot customs include: (1) reading the book of Ecclesiastes, (2) special Hoshana prayers in the synagogue and (3) inviting Ushpizin, symbolic guests, into the sukkah.

1. Reading Ecclesiastes, Kohelet [2], adds a serious note to the festivities and underscores the message that our security does not lie in material possessions, which are vain and transitory. It also beautifully reminds us that “to everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven” (3:7).

2. The seventh day of Sukkot is Hoshanah Rabah, literally the Great Hosanna or Many Hosannas. This is not regarded as a full festival day but special rituals are practiced, namely (i) the circling of the synagogue seven times instead of one while carrying the lulav and etrog [we will explore the lulav and etrog in more detail next week] while reciting the Hoshana prayers and (ii) the beating of the willow branches on the floor of the synagogue, which replicates how on this day, in temple times, branches were struck on the ground near the altar.

Interestingly, the Hoshana liturgy is repeated in Matthew 21:9, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” This celebration of salvation and redemption at the conclusion of Sukkot echoes Yeshua’s entrance into Jerusalem on a donkey, when the crowds greeted him waving palm branches and greetings of Hoshana (Matthew 21:8; John 12:13). The seven circuits bring to mind completion, also the victory march of Joshua and the Israelites around Jericho.
Willow leaves die quickly without water and can represent our weakness and sin when we depart from God and His Word. When the willow branches, now wilted at the end of the Sukkot week, are struck on the ground the leaves fall off easily – symbolizing the victory of our salvation in Messiah and the casting off of our sins.

3. To have Ushpizin, or guests, in our sukkah is a blessing. [3] A joyful custom in Jerusalem, and certainly in other communities, is to ‘sukkah-hop’ – to arrange a time with friends to visit from sukkah to sukkah. It also is customary to ‘invite’ a special biblical guest each night, in particular Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron and King David and to consider the life of each one and to learn from their example.

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A sukkah in Jerusalem

Footnotes:

1. Blessings said on the first night in the sukkah:

Light candles:

* Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech ha’Olam, Asher kidshanu be’mitzvotav ve’tzivanu le’hadlik ner shel Sukkot.

Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments and has commanded us to light the lights of Sukkot.

**Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech ha’Olam, Asher kidshanu be’mitzvotav ve’tzivanu leishev ba’sukkah.

Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments and has commanded us to dwell in the sukkah.

***Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech ha’Olam, She’hecheiyanu, ve’kimanu ve’higianu le’zman hazeh.

Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this season.

2. An excellent, in-depth, 3 CD teaching on the book of Ecclesiastes by Dr. Dwight A. Pryor, entitled: Abounding Emptiness, Abundant Living – The Challenge of Kohelet, can be found at JCStudies or (Christian Friends of Israel) CFI-UK.

3. To enjoy a Sukkot treat, try to locate a DVD of the Israeli movie Ushpizin (pronounced Oosh-pea-zeen). It has many laughs along with meaningful lessons and affords insight into life in a religious neighbourhood in Jerusalem. (See more in the Movies section).

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