Michael Boling – Feasts of the Lord: The Feast of Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles)


“Tell the people of Isra’el, ‘On the fifteenth day of this seventh month is the feast of Sukkot for seven days to Adonai.” (Leviticus 23:34)

“You are to live in sukkot for seven days; every citizen of Isra’el is to live in a sukkah” (Leviticus 23:42)

“You are to keep the festival of Sukkot for seven days after you have gathered the produce of your threshing-floor and winepress.” (Deuteronomy 16:13)

The seventh and final Feast of the Lord is Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles. Wrapping up the fall feasts, this holy convocation is celebrated for a period of seven days lasting from Tishrei 15 to 21. Unlike the previous two feasts, that of Yom Teruah (Feast of Trumpets) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) which formulate the days of awe, a time of repentance and self-reflection before God, Sukkot is a time of great celebration when families and communities come together to built sukkah.

As with several of the other Feasts of the Lord, Sukkot is know by several names throughout Scripture. These include:

1. The Season of Our Joy
2. The Festival of Ingathering
3. The Feast of the Nations
4. The Festival of Dedication
5. The Festival of Lights [1]

Sukkot was established by God as a two-fold reminder. First, it was a reminder of God’s provision for His people in the wilderness as they wandered for 40 years, living in temporary lodging. Second, it was also a reminder of God’s present blessings upon His people due to the bringing in of the fall harvest. This Feast is celebrated at a time when the fall harvest had been gathered, a time of rejoicing and reflection on the sustenance God had provided His people throughout the year.

This particular feast is one of the three pilgrim feasts which required every male to appear before God at the Temple in Jerusalem. Upon appearing before the Lord, the men of Israel were commanded by God in Deuteronomy 16:16 to bring their tithes and offerings from the recent harvest with the strict exhortation not to appear before God empty handed. Daniel Fuchs reveals that “Every male who attends an Orthodox synagogue during Tabernacles (Sukkot) carries with him what is called the four species: “an etrog, which is a citron, in his left hand; the lulav, a palm branch, in his right hand; two myrtle twigs and two willow branches are bound to the palm branch.”[1] This was in obedience to God’s command in Leviticus 23:40 which states “On the first day you are to take choice fruit, palm fronds, thick branches and river-willows, and celebrate in the presence of Adonai your God for seven days.”

Some scholars assert the inclusion of these four species of plants was to symbolize the virtue of the patriarchs. The Rabbinic writing of Pesikta Rabbati 51:2 comments on this issue:

“The product of goodly trees (the etrog) standing for some men in Israel: even as the etrog has aroma and has edible fruit, so Israel have in their midst men who have knowledge of Torah and also have good deeds. Branches of palm trees also stands for some men in Israel: as the palm tree has edible fruit but no aroma, so Israel have in their midst men who have knowledge of Torah but have not good deeds. Boughs of leafy trees also stands for some men in Israel: as the myrtle tree has aroma but has not edible fruit, so Israel have in their midst men who have good deeds but have not Torah. And willows of the brook also stands for some men in Israel: even as the willow has neither edible fruit nor aroma, so Israel have in their midst men in whom there is neither knowledge of Torah nor good deeds. The Holy One says: In order to make it impossible for Israel to be destroyed, let all of them be bound together as plants are bound into a cluster, so that the righteous among them will atone for the others. Hence Moses charged Israel, “Take for your own sake on the first day a cluster (Leviticus 23:40.”

Additionally, as with many of the other Feasts of the Lord, there were unique sacrificial requirements. Marvin Rosenthal notes in regards to this Feast the following:

“Further importance is seen in the great number of required sacrifices during the feast week. Each day one goat, fourteen lambs, two rams, and a number of bullocks (thirteen on the first day, decreasing by one each day) were offered in the Temple. Each of the sacrifices was offered with its appropriate meal offerings (flour and oil) and drink offerings (wine). All twenty-four divisions of priests shared in the sacrificial duties during the week.”[2]

Perhaps the most interesting and festive element of Sukkot is the actual preparation of the sukkah or huts. The older children, typically the teenagers, were given the responsibility of gathering the various materials that would comprise the construction of the sukkah. As the structure was built, great care was given to ensure it was tall enough for even a tall individual to be able to stand up straight once the roof was put on top of the sukkah. Additionally, the structure had to be wide enough to allow for a table to be placed inside for family and guests to gather and eat.

Often, the sukkah consisted of only three walls as it was often partially constructed against the home with a curtain or some other type of hanging being placed over the remaining wall. After construction of the walls, the roof was put on. There were specific instructions regarding the roof including what type of materials had to be used as well as how the roofing materials were arranged. Mitch Glaser notes “The branches have to be placed with great care, as the roof has to be open enough for the inhabitants to see the stars at night and allow some rain to penetrate, but not so open that it lets in more sunshine than shadow during the day.”[4]

The mere construction of the sukkah with wood and palm branches was, however, not the end of the preparation of the structure. Each sukkah was decorated with great care and celebration. As with many elements of the Feast of Sukkot, Rabbinic law over the years has influenced how the sukkah are decorated to include the additional influence of various Jewish communities and their respective traditions. Glaser comments “It is customary in many nations to suspend from the roof the seven species of the land of Israel mentioned in Deuteronomy 8:8 – wheat, barley, vines, figs, pomegranates, olives, and honey – in gratitude for the Lord’s bounty.”[5]

Jewish tradition has also included a plaque containing the Ushpizin, a pray of invitation for the “holy guests.” It is believed this tradition developed in remembrance of the time when Abraham lived in tents and entertained the three angels. The Rabbinic of Genesis Rabbah 48:10 declares “The Children of Israel were divinely protected in the wilderness by the shelter of the tabernacles solely because the Patriarch Abraham had given shelter to three strangers beneath the tree on his property.” Thus, hospitality towards guests and those who are poor constitutes a great portion of this Feast with nobody being turned away, especially the poor.

Once the family returns for the evening to the Sukkah, the family begins the evening festivities starting with the following meditation:

“I have gone forth from my home to this tabernacle because I would walk firmly in the way of Thy commandments wherever they may take me. Loud, pour out on my Thy great blessings and give me life, and when the time must come that I shall leave this world, may mine be the merit of dwelling in the cover of Thy protecting wings. Yet may it be my lot to be sealed in the Book of Life on earth for many days to come, and living in the Holy Land in reverent service of Thee. Blessed evermore be the Lord. Amen.”[6]

The sukkah was a great reminder of the need for humility before God as noted in the following statement by Samuel ben Meir:

“Do not say in your heart, “My own power and the might of my own hand have won this wealth for me” (Deuteronomy 8:17); you should remember the Lord your God, as it is He who gives you strength to make progress. Therefore, the people leave their houses, which are full of everything good at the season of ingathering, and dwell in booths, as a reminder of those who had no possessions in the wilderness and no houses in which to live. For this reason, the Holy One established the feast of Tabernacles at the time of the ingathering from the threshing floor and the wine press, that the people should not be proud of their well-furnished houses.”

The evening celebration continues with the partaking of the meal. Glaser notes “There is no Jewish food that is universally eaten on Sukkot. Each culture has different customs – Yemenite Jews slaughter a sheep or an ox to eat for the entire festival; in Germany, stuffed cabbage is eaten on the last day of the feast; Eastern European Jews traditionally serve kreplach (pieces of dough filled with chopped meat) during Tabernacles. Special holiday cakes, strudels, and festive candies are popular as well.”[7]

Each family lives in the sukkah for a period of seven days, just as they would live in their homes. Often during this Feast, families will visit their friends and neighbors sukkah, admiring the hard work put in to each family’s sukkah, “being sure that none surpasses his own in beauty and creativity.”[8]

On the final day of Sukkot, the booths are dismantled with great care with some parts of the sukkah saved for next year’s feast. Additionally, the fruit and vegetables that constituted the decorations of the sukkah, items that were forbidden to be eaten during the seven day feast, could now be consumed.

As you can see, the Feast of Sukkot is a time of great celebration and family togetherness. Most importantly, it is a time to remember an important fact: God dwells with His people and cares for them. In our next post, we will wrap up our discussion of the Feasts of the Lord with a look at the prophetic fulfillment of the Feast of Sukkot.


[1] ] “Sukkot: The Feast of Tabernacles,” Feasts of the Lord, September 21, 2013, accessed September 21, 2013, http://www.feastsofthelord.com/ss/live/index.php?action=getpage&sid=204&pid=2182
[2] Daniel Fuchs, Israel’s Holy Days (Neptune: Loizeaux Brothers, 1985), 75.
[3] Marvin Rosenthal, The Feasts of the Lord (Orlando: Zion’s Hope, 1997), 136).
[4] Mitch Glaser, The Fall Feasts of Israel (Chicago: Moody Press, 1987), 188.
[5] Ibid., 189.
[6] David de Sola Pool, ed. and trans., The Traditional Prayer Book for Sabbath and Festivals (New York: Behrman House, 1960), 636.
[7] Glaser, 197.
[8] Ibid., 198.

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