Seems strange, right? No sukkah this year. Let me explain.
My parents are aging and their health is none too good. My wife and I haven’t been able to visit them in a while. A window opened up in our schedules, so we took a long weekend and drove down to their place in Southwestern Utah last Friday. We stayed Saturday and drove back home Sunday.
As most of you reading this probably know, Sukkot began at Sundown last Sunday.
Now we got home at about 2:30 p.m., but I was all in from a nine-hour drive so I didn’t haul out our little sukkah kit and put it together as I usually do.
However, yesterday morning, the missus and I were up at the same time along with our son David, and I asked her if she’d like me to assemble the sukkah when I got home from work.
Her answer kind of surprised me.
She said that I built the sukkah each year because I wanted to, not because she wanted me to.
I distinctly remember one year her thanking me for remembering to put up the sukkah when she forgot.
We never have meals in it and it’s rather small, maybe fitting two or three people max.
In our marriage, she’s the Jewish spouse and I’m the goy. I suppose I could have built it anyway, but something told me that if she didn’t want to observe the mitzvah as a Jew, who am I to do so (and not being Jewish, I can’t really observe the mitzvah anyway)?
I know some of you are going to say there is an application for Gentiles in Sukkot and I agree with you. On the other hand, without the Jewish people, without the Exodus, without the forty years in the desert, there would be no celebration of Sukkot, and none of that has to do with we goyim, even if we are disciples of Rav Yeshua.
So this year, it’s Sukkot, but without a sukkah.
Perhaps it is fitting since I have distanced myself from at least certain elements of Messianic Judaism. But while some Messianic Jews feel it’s important to separate Gentiles from Jewish praxis, they still can’t insist we distance ourselves from Hashem (and I’m not suggesting they are).
On the other hand, Judaism in general believes that the goyim can have a place in the world to come under certain circumstances (although the Noahide Laws don’t quite map to the life of a “Judaically aware” non-Jewish disciple of Yeshua), so while a Jewish celebration such as Sukkot might not be appropriate for us (again, some of you will argue against this), entering the presence of Hashem through the merit of Rav Yeshua is allowed for us.
So for me, at least for this year, the sukkah will have to exist in my imagination and in the future when we will all enter Hashem’s House of Prayer, which is a shelter for all people, Israel and the nations alike.
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?
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!
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” Wikipedia
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.
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.
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.
In a sense, Sukkos itself is about getting our priorities straight. Here we just finished with the Days of Judgement, hopefully with Hashem’s blessings for a year of prosperity and success. Yet the first thing we do with our new-found blessings is to leave our comfortable homes for the temporary shade of the Sukkah. We thereby acknowledge that there can be no greater “success” in life that to do what Hashem really desires, even when it’s not what’s most comfortable. Sometimes we shake with the Esrog and sometimes we shake with the horse – the main thing is to strive to understand what Hashem wants of us in a given situation, not what we want or what makes us feel good. As the pasuk says (Mishlei/Proverbs 3:6), “In all your ways know Him; He will straighten your paths.”
-Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffman
“Sukkos: Shaking Up Our Priorities” Torah.org
My four-and-a-half year old grandson keeps calling me from my Sukkah. Actually, he keeps phoning me from my Sukkah, calling me at work. OK, he’s only done it twice, and he had Bubbe’s (my wife’s) help doing it.
The first time was actually a day or so before the festival began. He and Bubbe were lunching in the Sukkah and he called me to invite me over. Unfortunately, I couldn’t leave my job right then, but agreed to join him later that afternoon. The second time was a few days later, still at the same time of day. He wanted to know why “Uncle Mikey” (one of my sons) wasn’t answering his phone. I explained that “Uncle Mikey” was probably in school (university) and couldn’t answer the phone.
The kid really wants more company in my Sukkah. And that’s a good thing.
This is the season of joy for Jewish people. The days of judgment have passed and there is great celebration in or rather outside many Jewish homes, eating, and singing, and dancing, all for the sake of the Torah and Hashem.
As I write this (on Friday before Shabbos), I have yet to take a meal in my own Sukkah (Note: On Shabbos I started taking my meals in the Sukkah). I almost did last night, but my wife and I had a conversation on a serious subject while making dinner and, both being distracted, we sat down at the kitchen table for our meal and were eating before I realized we’d missed eating in the Sukkah together.
I thought about breakfast or at least coffee this morning in the Sukkah, but it was still dark outside and after coming back from the gym, my son (in this case, David) and I were in a rush to get ready for work.
As Rabbi Hoffman suggests, I need to get my priorities straight. Obviously, my grandson already has his up to snuff, since he’s eating every day in the Sukkah and trying to invite others to do the same.
And I’m pretty sure that at his age, he doesn’t really grasp Sukkot yet.
But who knows?
It’s Friday before Shabbos, but you won’t read this until Monday morning (or later). I’m hoping I can get all the kids over on Sunday for a meal. Everyone has different schedules so it isn’t easy to gather together in our home regularly. But just once this week, it would be nice to eat with the family in the Sukkah (Note: As it turned out, everyone had plans away from our home on Sunday, including my wife…ah, maybe next year).
It is said in Machzor of Succos, “I welcome to my table the saintly guests, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, and David.” It is said in the Siddur, “I am hereby ready and prepared to fulfill the positive commandment…” It is said in Isaiah 11:6“And a little boy will lead them.”
When was Yeshua born? The Gospel writers either did not know when the event happened or they did not feel the information was important enough to pass along. We can only speculate.
Two centuries after it happened, Clement of Alexandria discussed the dating of the Master’s birth, but he did not mention December 25 or January 6 at all. Instead, Clement reported one tradition corresponding to April 20 on our civil calendar and another tradition corresponding to May 20. By the middle of the fourth century, however, the Roman church had begun to honor December 25 while churches in the East, Asia Minor, and Egypt observed Jesus’ birth on January 6. Both are late developments and unsupported by early tradition or biblical evidence. No trace of a tradition from the early Jewish believers connects the birth of the Messiah with December 25 or January 6.
This is normally the sort of conversation you have in December when the vast majority of the Christian world prepares to celebrate the birth of Christ. One thing we can be certain of is that Jesus was born nowhere near December 25th. But it has been suggested that he might have been born on or near the festival of Sukkot. Could this be true?
I recently had a private request for any information I knew about this possibility. Alas, it’s not something I’ve written on before (although I’ve heard some commentaries on the topic). Fortunately, D. Thomas Lancaster has written on this in the above quoted article in Messiah Journal 111, which was published last year. Does Lancaster conclude that the Master was born during this season and if so, what is his evidence?
Other Sukkot-theory proponents claim, “Yeshua was born in a sukkah because the word ‘stable’ is sukkah in Hebrew.” These arguments are not at all convincing and fall apart under scrutiny. Is there any legitimate evidence of a Sukkot birth, or is the birth of Yeshua at Sukkot just more Hebrew roots movement apocrypha?
-Lancaster, pg 22
That doesn’t sound too encouraging. As much as the symbolism may attract us and fit into the theories and emotional dynamics of certain individuals and groups, is there any real evidence to establish the idea that Jesus was born during Sukkot? What line of reasoning and investigation could we use to support or refute this viewpoint?
Lancaster suggests that we could compare the birth narrative of John the Baptist to that of Jesus. We know, based on Luke 1:26 and 1:36 that the conception of Jesus came about six months after the conception of John, thus we can assume that Jesus was born about six months after John was. If we could determine when John was conceived and/or born, we could reasonably deduce when Jesus was born.
And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.”
–Luke 1:20 (NIV)
And now you will be dumb and unable to speak until the day when this has taken place; because you did not believe my words–words which will be fulfilled at their appointed time.”
–Luke 1:20 (Weymouth New Testament)
These are the only two translations of the New Testament where it specifically mentions “appointed time,” which is important because of the following:
“Is anything too difficult for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, at this time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”
–Genesis 18:14 (NASB)
But what’s “appointed time” got to do with it? Doesn’t it just mean some random date God selected for the birth of John the Baptist and Isaac, the son of Abraham and Sarah?
In the Torah, the biblical festivals are called “appointed times.” According to one Jewish interpretation, “the appointed time” at which Sarah gave birth to Isaac was the first day of Passover:
And how do we know that Isaac was born at Passover? Because it is written, “At the appointed time I will return to you […and Sarah will have a son].” (b.Rosh Hashanah 11a)
In the Gospels, John the Immerser comes in the role and spirit of Elijah. Jewish tradition maintains that Elijah will appear at Passover to announce the coming of Messiah. For that reason, we read Malachi’s prophecy about the coming of the Messiah on the Sabbath before Passover, and Jewish homes set a place at the Passover Seder table for Elijah.
Lancaster covers two other traditions. One involving the Biblical record of Joseph and Mary traveling (supposedly) to Jerusalem to attend the festival of Sukkot, and they happened to be near Bethlehem when Mary went into labor. If Bethlehem were on the pilgrim trail to Jerusalem, the multitude of travelers going up to Jerusalem for the festival could account for all the “no vacancy” signs at the inns.
The other tradition has to do with assigning a double meaning to the phrase “the Eighth Day.” Of course, all Jewish boys were to be circumcised on the eighth day after birth, but the last day of Sukkot, which is actually a separate festival, Shemini Atzeret, is also referred to as the “Eighth Day.” This would mean Jesus would have been born on the first day of Sukkot and circumcised on the eighth day of the festival. Pretty neat timing.
Admittedly, this is all speculative. The Gospels do not actually indicate that John was born on the first day of Passover, that Yeshua was born on the first day of Sukkot, or that he was circumcised on the eighth day of Sukkot.
-ibid, pg 23
Lancaster’s article goes on for another page or so where he quotes from a “medieval collection of anti-Christian Jewish folklore titled The story about Shim’on Kefa (Aggadta DeShim’on Kefa),” which may offer certain hints suggesting that the early Jewish believers could have commemorated the Master’s birth at Sukkot, but all in all, support for this perspective is very thin.
I’m not saying it couldn’t work out this way and I suppose it would be very symbolic if it did work out that Jesus was born on Sukkot, but in fact, we just don’t know. Evidence from the Gospels and from various Christian and Jewish sources simply do not provide enough light on this matter to bring it to any sort of resolution. Thus, for Christians and other Gentile believers involved in the Hebrew Roots and Messianic Jewish movements, we must find other reasons to celebrate Sukkot. Don’t worry, we have reasons enough, as one person said on my blog recently.
It is appropriate, not only that you have built the family sukkah, but also that you should participate in its celebration, as an anticipation of the prophetic fulfillment in the Messianic Era when the nations will come up to Jerusalem to celebrate this feast (or suffer drought), as described by Zacharyah. Indeed, Jewish tradition perceives reflections of a sort of Yom Kippur repentance and redemption for the non-Jewish nations in the Sukkot celebration.
As for Messiah, he temporarily lived among people once in the fragile shelter of a human body. Some day, he will return and be with us forever.
I’ve been reviewing some of my past Sukkot related blog posts and thought you’d find these interesting:
You won’t find any intimacy with G-d by keeping the so-called “Noahide laws”. If all you need is to be ethical then you don’t need the Bible. Everyone has a conscience and already knows how to be ethical.
But the Tanak says that G-d wants more than ethical followers–He wants INTIMACY with us. The prophets all say that the Gentiles will be joined to G-d and joined to His People (Israel), that they will flock to Jerusalem/Zion to learn the Torah, they will keep Shabbat, Sukkot, etc. Have you read Isaiah 56, Isaiah 2, Micah 4, Joel 2, Amos 9, etc, etc?
Here’s something else: you will FAIL to keep the Noahide laws, which means you NEED atonement. As it happens, tonight is Yom Kippur so it’s a good time to consider how you have no atonement unless you accept Yeshua. Your Orthodox friends have deceived you but you need to realize that Yeshua is G-d. Thus, to deny Yeshua is to deny HaShem. That’s it! There’s no way around it!
The High Holy Days don’t play to our strength. The extended services put a premium on prayer, an activity at which we are no longer very adept. Yom Kippur asks of us to spend an entire day in the synagogue immersed in prayer. But we find it easier to believe in God than to pray to God.
Why am I starting a blog post about Sukkot by quoting people talking about Yom Kippur? Patience. The answers are coming.
I don’t often engage Peter, especially by referencing his home ground (his blog). There is a great deal about which we disagree and endless rounds of “head butting” have produced nothing but bruises and headaches. I can do without both.
Occasionally, however, he makes a good point, such as saying that simply engaging in ethical behavior for its own sake or imagining that it is only what we do that pleases God misses the point. As Professor Schorsch points out, in the end, it’s our engagement of God on God’s own terms, in prayer, devotion, supplication, and “brokenness” that forges a relationship and helps to deepen the bonds between mankind and our Creator.
But Peter also misses the point in imagining that a Gentile going beyond the Noahide laws and attempting to keep the full 613 mitzvot as the Jewish people are commanded somehow will make the difference. Does keeping the Torah mitzvot (a much longer list of activities than the Noahide laws), in and of itself, foster intimacy with God and spiritual growth within our souls? Didn’t Peter say something about atonement and a believer’s relationship with God?
Dependence is part of the human condition, of which we are also reminded by the fragile nature of the sukkah itself. Our feelings of thanksgiving and anxiety, of uplift and unease, are united by the inescapable sense of how subordinate we humans actually are to God’s will.
Commentary on Sukkot
“An Undertone of Angst,” pg 674
Not all sages agreed, however, that sukkot were huts. Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus early in the second century contended that the protection came in the form of a divinely provided cloud cover (ananei kavod). That is, for the duration of their forty-year sojourn in the wilderness, the Israelites were fed by manna and sheltered by clouds, beneficiaries of a caring God.
-ibid, “Huts of Clouds?” pg 683
While Judaism richly interweaves faith, prayer, and mitzvah performance, it is still less what we do than who we depend upon in our weakness as human beings, as if a Christian (non-Jewish believer in Jesus), by either wearing or not wearing tzitzit periodically during prayer, or even continually during waking hours by donning a tallit katan, will cause God to grant or withhold favor, blessings, and intimacy. If I fail to wear tallit and tefillin in prayer or refrain from building a sukkah in my backyard this year, will God frown upon my Christian soul if I choose to approach God in earnest prayer, with supplication, with a wounded spirit, and a broken and contrite heart? Is it only prayer, devotion, and tzitzit and sukkah construction efforts that create the “magic” combination and gets God’s attention?
This year, as in past years, I have built my little sukkah (it’s a kosher sukkah kit my wife and I ordered from Israel some years ago), but I didn’t build it because I thought that not doing so would result in my being sent to Hell without so much as a pitcher of ice water and an electric fan. I didn’t even do so because I thought God would withdraw his lovingkindness from me if I didn’t. I didn’t even do so because there’s a commandment in the Torah to build and live in a sukkah for eight days.
That’s not the point.
But I didn’t say that Christians are to totally refrain from all of the Torah mitzvot either. In fact, Christians who show true fruits of the spirit and authentically transformed lives actually do observe many, perhaps most of the Torah mitzvot, which in part, was the intent of the Jerusalem Council’s letter to the Gentiles we see recorded by Luke in Acts 15. We just don’t adopt those practices that have been given specifically to Israel, the Jewish people, because being people of the nations who are called by God’s Name (Amos 9:11-12) doesn’t make us Jewish or Israel.
I build a sukkah every year for two simple reasons. One, because my wife and children are Jewish and as the head of my family, it is my responsibility to build a sukkah for them, supporting and encouraging theirJewish Torah observance. Two, because, as Professor Schorsch says, building a sukkah illustrates the vulnerability all human beings experience in a universe created by God, and how we very much depend on Him for shelter from the elements and even for every single morsel of food we need to sustain our lives.
You open Your hand And satisfy the desire of every living thing.
–Psalm 145:16 (NASB)
It may have been huts or tents and not literally clouds that spared the Children of Israel from wind, and rain, and harsh desert heat for those forty years in the desert, but the handiwork of man only goes so far. After that, only God can protect and nurture.
In short, grace in Judaism is not undeserved. If we take the first step, God will meet us more than halfway.
-ibid, “Creating Settings of Holiness,” pg 682
I agree, we (not just Jewish people, but everyone in relationship with God) cannot be inactive in God’s grace, and in fact, God expects us to actually do something in participation with Him, but it’s God who does the heavy lifting and in the end, even if we fail completely in our attempts to interact with His Holiness, He is more than gracious enough to meet us, not only more than halfway, but all the way, as we crawl and bleed into the desert sand, in order to lift us up, hold us lovingly, and shelter us from harm.
For it is obvious and known that nothing we can do in and of itself can “force” God to draw nearer if it is against His Will. Our deeds are not righteous, and though He greatly desires obedience, it is not obedience that “makes” God become intimate with us or shelter us from the storm. It’s the fact that in the eyes of God, we are more helpless than newborn babies, unable to do anything for ourselves, as measured by an infinitely powerful and Holy God. It is only out of grace, mercy, and even pity that God takes the fragile sticks and leaves we build from our lives and makes them capable of withstanding even the mightiest of hurricanes.
There was once a man, whom we will call Andy, who was diagnosed with a rare and severe illness. Unique conditions often call for unconventional treatments, and he was advised to try psycho-physical therapy: he was told to find someone who lives in complete joy with no worries, ask him for his coat, and wear that man’s coat for seven days. Hopeful that he would soon feel healthy again, Andy embarked on his mission to find such a person. He searched everywhere, asking everyone he met if they or someone they knew was completely happy without worries. Unfortunately, after many months he still hadn’t found anyone who fit the description.
Finally, with the debilitating illness still progressing, Andy was referred to a man named Sam who, he was told, was happy and had no worries at all. It was winter, yet Andy anxiously trudged through the snow to a park bench where he was told Sam could be found. Andy sat down next to Sam and began his inquiry.
“Are you Sam, the man they say is filled with joy, who has no worries?” Andy asked.
“Yes, indeed I am,” Sam replied with a smile.
“Wonderful! May I borrow your coat for seven days? It would really mean a lot to me.”
“Of course! I would love to lend you my coat, but there’s just one problem.”
“What’s that, Sam?”
“I have no coat.”
-Rabbi Mordechai Dixler
Program Director, Project Genesis/Torah.org
“The Party That Never Ends” ProjectGenesis.org
This lesson from Rabbi Dixler somewhat reminds me of something that the Master taught:
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. –Matthew 6:19-21 (ESV)
But what does all this have to do with Sukkot? Plenty.
As Rabbi Dixler points out in his commentary, during Yom Kippur, observant Jews immerse themselves in prayer and supplication before God, turning aside from physical pleasures and imploring their Creator to help them build a new future. Immediately after such a time of plunging into the intense personal and spiritual depths, emerging after the fast and knowing that Sukkot is immediately upon them, the soul rebounds and rises into great joy.
Interestingly enough, Jews are to leave their regular dwellings and reside in “simple huts with deliberately poor roofing” for this week-long holiday, entertaining their guests including, traditionally, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, and David…a different guest each night. It would be like welcoming a different king on each successive night, and entertaining them in a makeshift lean-to. After the personal deprivation of Yom Kippur, why eat and drink and sleep in, what for some of us, might be a small, damp, cold, flimsy shelter?
I think the secret is in what we read from Matthew’s account of the teachings of Jesus. With the roof of the tent purposefully incomplete, allowing in rain and letting us see the stars above us at night, we are trading our physical, secular home for one which Rabbi Dixler calls a “new spiritual home” which “serves to inject the spiritual, genuine, joy experienced on Yom Kippur into common daily activities.”
But what about Andy and Sam?
One does not need a coat to be the happiest man alive. In fact, if we rely on non-spiritual pursuits for our joy, we’ll never be satisfied. As the Sages say, “a person does not leave this world with even half of what he wanted” (Koheles Raba, 1:34). Nothing in this world can live up to our dreams, and a non-spiritual focus ultimately ends in disappointment.
The answer is not asceticism. As one of my teachers, Rabbi Berel Wein, used to say in this context, “this is not a plea for poverty, my friends!” We do learn, however, that for any material pursuit or attainment to last, it must at least be rooted in spirituality. If we buy delicious food to share with others, buy a house to raise a family and welcome guests, or pursue a lucrative career to have money to help those in need, we’ll experience the spiritual joy along with the physical joy, and then it is guaranteed to last. (Based on Nesivos Shalom)
I suspect that Andy was relieved of his disorder, not by wearing Sam’s non-existent coat for the next seven days, but by understanding why he didn’t have one. Although you and I might consider spending seven days and nights living, eating, and sleeping under the clouds and the sky as a bit uncomfortable (one or two nights might seem like a camp out), there is joy in relying on God. Our immediate surroundings may seem poor, but we are inundated by the boundless treasures of Heaven. By living in a flimsy structure and yet decorating it elaborately, often with lights, trinkets, pictures and such, and then, inviting guests, from the poorest to the richest, into our hovel, and feeding them abundant food and drink, we are experiencing the reality of our existence. We live on earth and are able to enjoy all that it has to offer, but we are also dependent on the blessings of Heaven above us to shelter our heads from the harsh elements of this life.
One can take pleasure in what the world has to offer and this, God approves of. But the world will not be our lasting joy. Only God can give that.
Sukkot begins tonight, September 30th, at sundown. Here’s an infographic that will tell you everything you ever wanted to know about Sukkot.
Chag Sameach and Good Sukkos.
"When you awake in the morning, learn something to inspire you and mediate upon it, then plunge forward full of light with which to illuminate the darkness." -Rabbi Tzvi Freeman