Then it will come about that any who are left of all the nations that went against Jerusalem will go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to celebrate the Feast of Booths. And it will be that whichever of the families of the earth does not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, there will be no rain on them. If the family of Egypt does not go up or enter, then no rain will fall on them; it will be the plague with which the Lord smites the nations who do not go up to celebrate the Feast of Booths. This will be the punishment of Egypt, and the punishment of all the nations who do not go up to celebrate the Feast of Booths.
–Zechariah 14:16-19 (NASB)
That having been said, Sukkot is coming up, and you should probably give some consideration to how much you are willing to pursue practical enactments of the anticipated messianic era in which Zachariah envisioned the requirement for gentiles to celebrate Sukkot and the aspects of it that imply redemption for the nations. The above essay seems to indicate that you’ve pulled away too far, and perhaps that you’ve begun to acknowledge it.
I used to think that in Messianic Days, we so-called “Messianic Gentiles” would all have an open invitation to celebrate the Festival of Sukkot in Jerusalem, basking in the glory of our King and having a terrific time “partying”. However, a slightly more careful reading of the Zechariah passage illustrates that it’s actually a punishment for the people of the nations who all attacked Israel during that final war when God and Israel win.
If the nations that went up against Israel don’t send representatives to Jerusalem for Sukkot, they get no rain that year. It’s not a party, it’s a command performance, an admission of guilt, an act of contrition.
Nevertheless, PL’s above-quoted statement is a strong suggestion that it is appropriate for all we non-Jews to return to God on Sukkot, and I responded by crafting my own little missive stating that it’s a good time for me to return as well. But as I’m about to relate, the connection between Gentiles and Sukkot may not be what we’ve been told it is.
Now that Yom Kippur is over, I feel the beginning of Sukkot rapidly approaching. I am aware of how much stuff I’ll need to dig through in our storage room to get to our wee Sukkah kit, how I’ll need to drag is out of the garage and around the side of the house, so I can put it together on our back patio this coming weekend.
I build a sukkah each year primarily for one reason: my wife is Jewish and as the husband in the family, it’s my job to build stuff, in this case, a sukkah.
So aside from Gentiles being associated with Sukkot as a matter of consequence for having the audacity to go to war against God’s holy people and His most treasured nation, can I, as a non-Jew (albeit one married to a Jew) get anything out of Sukkot beyond the awareness that I’m a Gentile citizen of one of the nations that will (in all likelihood) attack Israel?
There are a plethora of online articles about Jewish observance of Sukkot (of course) such as The ABCs of Sukkot, Sukkot: Transforming Trash Into Love, A Sukkah Grows in Brooklyn, and Finding Shelter in a Transient World.
Except possibly for the last article in that list, none of them do me any good at all. They’re all written by and for Jews. Naturally, they have nothing to do with me or with any non-Jew.
That’s why I was surprised to find a Chabad article on the web called How a Gentile Celebrates Sukkot written by Rabbi Moshe Bogomilsky.
The Haftarah for the first day of Sukkot is the prophecy of Zecharya concerning the war of Gog and Magog, which will climax with the final redemption and acknowledgment by the nations that Hashem alone is the King, and that Israel is His people. This realization will be celebrated on Sukkot, for, according to the prophecy, the surviving nations will join the Jewish people every year in celebrating the Sukkot festival. In his prophecy Zecharya declares, “And if the family of Egypt will not ascend and will not come…They will suffer the plague with which Hashem will afflict the nations, because they will not have ascended to celebrate the festival of Sukkot. This will be the punishment of Egypt and the punishment of all the nations that will not ascend to celebrate the festival of Sukkot.”
As interesting as this may sound; it is difficult to imagine that in the future the nations of the world will be obligated to sit in a Sukkah and celebrate together with the Jews, and be punished for it if they don’t!
Both Rabbi Bogomilsky and Sara Debbie Gutfreund, who authored Finding Shelter in a Transient World, mention that, among other things, Sukkot is a time of unity and connection.
Ms. Gutfreund states:
Bring friends and family into your sukkah. Learn from others and share what you have learned. Build and nurture the connections that you have with others in your life. Feel the embrace of the chain of kindness that redeems so much darkness; be another link in that chain.
And Rabbi Bogomilsky tells us:
The common factor in these two mitzvot is achdut — unity.
That the mitzvah of sukkah represents unity is obvious from the fact that many families may eat together in the same sukkah. In fact, the Gemara (Sukkah 27b) says that, “re’uyim kol Yisrael leisheiv besukkah achat” — “All of Israel are fit to sit in one sukkah” — which means that unlike other mitzvot (e.g. four species) where each one must have his own object, one can build a sukkah and let everyone use it to properly fulfill the mitzvah of dwelling in a sukkah. Thus, sukkah is a mitzvah through which Klal Yisrael becomes united.
Putting all this together, we see a hint of a common connection between Jews and non-Jews all sharing the Sukkot celebration together, sharing meals in Sukkot in Jerusalem, and maybe all over the Land of Israel, symbolizing God’s and Israel’s forgiveness of the people of the nations for our sins against them, and a forging of a bond of togetherness under the reign of King Messiah.
But in the paragraphs from which I’ve quoted so far, they are talking exclusively about Sukkot and the Jewish people. What about the Gentiles?
Rabbi Bogomilsky answers that question.
Zecharya’s reference to the sukkah is an allegory. He does not mean that in Messianic times the gentile will be obligated to eat in the sukkah together with the Jew, and be punished if he does not fulfill the mitzvah. He means that the gentile world will be expected to practice the lesson conveyed by the mitzvot of the festival of Sukkot. They must forsake their striving for selfish gain and replace it with a sense of responsibility and sharing of privileges with all of humanity. Hence, Zecharya’s words, “Lo ya’alu lachog et chag haSukkot” — “They have refused to go up to celebrate the festival of Sukkot” — can be explained to mean that they have refused to elevate themselves spiritually and realize the message that Sukkot teaches humanity.
Oh. Well so much for the idea of togetherness, forgiveness, and unity in Messiah. R. Bogomilsky ends his article on an uplifting note, but it rings hollow after his previous block of text:
Let us hope and pray that, speedily in our times, we merit the revelation of Mashiach and the rebuilding of the “sukkah of David” which has fallen — the Beit Hamikdash — (see Amos, 9:10, Sanhedrin 96b), and then all of mankind will enjoy the ultimate of harmony, peace, and tranquility.
According to this source, there will be harmony and peace between Gentile and Jew, enjoyed by all humanity, but as I wrote the better part of two months ago, that peace, for the Jew, will be in their nation, in Israel, and the people of the nations will enjoy that peace in each of their (our) nations.
No vacations for Gentiles to Jerusalem during Sukkot.
I suppose this is more in line with the traditional Christian view of whether or not believers should celebrate Jewish holidays:
4th century theologian John Chrysostom said, “The festivals of the pitiful and miserable Jews are soon to march upon us one after the other and in quick succession: the feast of Trumpets, the feast of Tabernacles, the fasts. There are many in our ranks who say they think as we do. Yet some of these are going to watch the festivals and others will join the Jews in keeping their feasts and observing their fasts. I wish to drive this perverse custom from the Church right now.”
Such a strong expression of this view, especially if associated with Anti-Judaism, is not common in the contemporary church. However, it is an exaggeration to claim that Christians in general tend to adopt and adapt Jewish festivals.
-from “Criticism of Christian Observance of Jewish Holidays”
To be fair, there are Christian rebuttals to that criticism:
The Book of Zechariah chapter 14 verse 16 speaks of Gentile nations remaining after the “Lord is king over all the earth”: “And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall even go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles.” In both Jewish and Christian eschatology, this scripture refers to a time when the Messiah will come to physically rule in Jerusalem. This reference gives confirmation that future Gentiles are required by the Lord to keep at least an additional feast to Passover and Pentecost: the Feast of Tabernacles.
Christian scholars such as Chuck Missler, Mark Davidson, Steve Cioccolanti and Perry Stone argue that the first four feasts have been fulfilled by Christ’s first coming, therefore the final three feasts will also be fulfilled around the time of Christ’s second coming. The Biblical holidays find their meaning in Messiah, and either commemorates what He has done or what He will do. They are therefore eternal holidays for believers.
You can see why I generally don’t turn to Christian sources regarding Gentile participation in Messianic Times.
I can’t speak to the validity of the information offered by the website for an organization called Light to the Nations, but according to a 1999 article hosted there called Sukkot: A Unique Connection to the Gentiles written by Rabbi Chaim Richman (presumably, the article’s author and the Rabbi Richman associated with the Temple Institute are the same person)…
This Friday evening, we begin to observe the Festival of Sukkot. Of all the sacred seasons that G-d commanded Israel to observe, this festival, also known as the Festival of Tabernacles has the strongest implications for the nations of the world. Even today, vast numbers of Gentiles identify with the holiday of Sukkot, and converge on Jerusalem just to be in the holy city at this time of year. It is as if their heartstrings are pulled by some invisible magnet, the source of which they know not. Some force draws them to connect between Sukkot and the location of the Holy Temple.
In the Written Torah and the Oral Tradition
This is well understood, for it is a connection emphasized by both the written Scriptures and the Oral Tradition. The relationship between the nations and the holiday of Sukkot dates back to ancient times, and arcs through our own period as well…to form a bridge into that future, rectified world that we all yearn and long for, Jew and Gentile alike…the day when “the L-rd and His name will be One” (Zechariah 14:9).
The Sacrifice of Seventy Bulls
During Sukkot in the time of the Holy Temple, a unique sacrifice was offered on the altar…with a unique intention.
In chapter 29 of the book of Numbers, the Bible outlines the sacrifices that are to be offered over the span of the holiday. Counting the number of bulls that are offered over the seven-day period, we find that the total number was seventy. And in chapter 10 of the book of Genesis, there are seventy nations mentioned. These are the primordial nations, sometimes referred to as the “seventy languages,” which represent all humanity. The Talmud (BT Sukkah 55:B) teaches that the seventy bulls that were offered in the Holy Temple served as atonement for the seventy nations of the world. Truly, as the rabbis observed, “if the nations of the world had only known how much they needed the Temple, they would have surrounded it with armed fortresses to protect it” (Bamidbar Rabbah 1, 3).
Here we can already sense that inherent within the very nature of the holiday, an inexorable bond-as expressed through its sacrificial requirements-links it to the earth’s peoples. Sukkot was mandated by the Creator Himself to be a holiday for all the world.
Rabbi Richman does go on to quote from relevant portions of Zechariah, but he stops short of stating that Gentiles would actually be involved in celebrating Sukkot with Jews in Jerusalem. “Jerusalem will dwell in security,” but it doesn’t seem that Jewish sources expect Gentiles to dwell or even sojourn with the Jewish people in Jerusalem on Sukkot, in spite of the fact that in the modern world, many, many Christians visit the Holy City during the holiday of the Festival of Booths.
All of this begs the question about whether or not it is appropriate for Gentiles, especially exclusively Gentile groups, to build a kosher (or even non-kosher) Sukkah and to celebrate Sukkot in a traditionally Jewish manner.
As I previously mentioned, even given all that I’ve said, at it’s most elementary level, I build a sukkah every year because my wife is Jewish and I’m her husband. Technically, at least according the Jewish sources I’ve cited, I do not now nor will I have in the future, any duty to actually eat, sleep, or otherwise spend any of my time inside the Sukkah for the full duration of the festival or any bit of it.
Additionally, traditional Christian sources would probably agree with that assessment as well, though for different reasons (“Jesus fulfilled,” and so on, and so forth).
What would seem to be incumbent upon the Gentile is to practice peace by “forsaking our striving for selfish gain and replacing it with a sense of responsibility and sharing of privileges with all of humanity.”
But we don’t have to build, eat, and dwell in a sukkah to do that.
However, I have been trying to write about how the believing Gentile, even one “stranded” on a metaphorical deserted island and isolated from Gentile and Jewish community, still has a relationship with God, a relationship that indeed is desired by God.
So let’s have a short look at the sorts of “shelter” Sara Debbie Gutfreund says a Jew can expect to find in a Sukkah.
- The shelter of faith
- The shelter of gratitude
- The shelter of connection
- The shelter of authenticity
- The shelter of prayer
- The shelter of awe
Let’s take the obviously easy points in the list first. I don’t think anyone, Christian or Jew, can say that it is inappropriate for the Gentile turning to God to experience faith, gratitude, and awe, and to respond with prayer.
If you deny the Gentile the ability to have faith in God, you deny God to the Gentile. And experiencing God to any degree should inspire awe in the spiritually aware person, Gentile as well as Jew. Naturally, realizing that God extended His plan for the redemption of Israel even to the nations of the world should be our inspiration for feeling grateful, and to humbly thank and praise Hashem in prayer.
What about connection?
For a Jew, unity and connection is all about being united and connected with other Jews. As we’ve seen above, that’s (apparently) never extended to Gentiles. Ms Gutfreund says that connection is created by bringing “family and friends” into your Sukkah, but presumably, she’s talking about Jewish family and friends (although with more liberal branches of Judaism and certainly if there are intermarried Jewish members of the family, then you might see Gentiles in some Sukkot).
So who do we get connected to? Even if we don’t build our own Sukkot, I suppose we can still unite with like-minded Gentiles at this time of year, celebrating, in our own fashion, our anticipation of the ultimate age of peace and tranquility.
For the Gentile on the metaphorical deserted island, alone with his/her Bible and prayers, there is still the ability to forge a connection with God. We can still invite Him into our house, even if that house is only our heart and being.
Authenticity? Ms. Gutfreund describes this as:
Close the gap between who you are and how you appear to the world around you. Don’t be afraid to change in order to be truly aligned with your authentic values. Use the space of the sukkah to open the space within that wants to be free.
That doesn’t sound specific to Sukkot necessarily. I think we have a standing directive to re-order our lives to be more in line with God, to draw closer to Him, to conform our lives to His desires increasingly across the passage of time.
I can’t tell you, as a non-Jewish disciple of Rav Yeshua (Jesus) whether you should or shouldn’t build a sukkah or to celebrate the Festival of Sukkot one way or another, or to just ignore it completely.
I can’t tell you in absolute terms if or how the people of the nations of the world will be involved in Sukkot in the Messianic Era. I can relate what I understand of the Jewish and Christian traditions on the matter, but I can’t tell you what God has in mind. For all I know (and in spite of Jewish and Christian traditional interpretations), God really will require Gentile representatives from each of the nations that went to war against Israel to go to Jerusalem, pay homage to King Messiah, and celebrate Sukkot by eating and drinking with Jewish people in Sukkot.
And for all I know, God wouldn’t mind Gentile families booking their vacations in Jerusalem during the Sukkot festival just because it would be an incredible way to experience our participation in the reign of peace and justice brought forth by Israel’s King and ours.