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eTeacherBiblical Official Newsletter
Issue #136 - 09/13
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Eli Dahan

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Sukkot in the Old Testament - A time to rejoice

A question I received recently was about Sukkot in the Old Testament. Johnny Frenkel asked me to write about this joyous festival after Webinar 139 and I would like to thank you, dear Johnny, for this question. So few people appreciate the tremendous opportunity Sukkot gives us for a change of location for one week every year.    

The first time the meet the word “sukkah” in the Hebrew Bible is when Jacob named a place Sukkot after he had built a shelter for his cattle (see Gen. 33:17). In the newsletter I wrote about Sukkot last year I mentioned all the dates that are relevant to this festival. Today I plan to focus on other aspects of the festival.

Let's continue with the description of Sukkot in the book of Deuteronomy, where the commandment to rejoice - especially after the 10 "heavy" days between the New Year and the Day of Atonement – is repeated, as written:

"You shall celebrate the Feast of Booths seven days after you have gathered in from your threshing floor and your wine vat; and you shall rejoice in your feast, you and your son and your daughter and your male and female servants and the Levite and the stranger and the orphan and the widow who are in your towns. Seven days you shall celebrate a feast to the Lord your God in the place which the Lord chooses, because the Lord your God will bless you in all your produce and in all the work of your hands, so that you will be altogether joyful."(Deuteronomy 16:13-15)

"חַג הַסֻּכֹּת תַּעֲשֶׂה לְך שִׁבְעַת יָמִיםבְּאָסְפְּךָ -מִגָּרְנְךָ וּמִיִּקְבֶךָ וְשָׂמַחְתָּ בְּחַגֶּךָ: אַתָּה וּבִנְךָ וּבִתֶּךָ וְעַבְדְּךָ וַאֲמָתֶךָ וְהַלֵּוִי וְהַגֵּר וְהַיָּתוֹם וְהָאַלְמָנָה אֲשֶׁר בִּשְׁעָרֶיךָ. שִׁבְעַת יָמִים תָּחֹג לַיהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ בַּמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר-יִבְחַר יְהוָהכִּי יְבָרֶכְךָ יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ בְּכֹל תְּבוּאָתְךָ וּבְכֹל מַעֲשֵׂה יָדֶיךָ, וְהָיִיתָ אַךְ שָׂמֵחַ"

When you have gathered all the crops from the field and from your vineyard, you must rejoice with all the people of your community, whether they are rich or poor, servant or master, from your people or just live in your land as inhabitants. After you have been judged by God, you are free to be joyful. It's no coincidence that the moment Yom Kippur ends you begin to build the Sukkah. The mood has changed - it’s time to celebrate!

When you look at the actions of Jeroboam, the first King of the Northern Kingdom, there's a tendency to assume that there’s a certain evil connected with Sukkot. Let's see why:

"Jeroboam instituted a feast in the eighth month on the fifteenth day of the month, like the feast which is in Judah… Then he went up to the altar which he had made in Bethel on the fifteenth day in the eighth month, even in the month which he had devised in his own heart; and he instituted a feast for the sons of Israel and went up to the altar to burn incense."(1 Kings 12:32-33)

"וַיַּעַשׂ יָרָבְעָם חָג בַּחֹדֶשׁ הַשְּׁמִינִי בַחֲמִשָּׁה-עָשָׂר יוֹם לַחֹדֶשׁ כֶּחָג אֲשֶׁר בִּיהוּדָהוַיַּעַל עַל-הַמִּזְבֵּחַ אֲשֶׁר-עָשָׂה בְּבֵית-אֵל, בַּחֲמִשָּׁה עָשָׂר יוֹם בַּחֹדֶשׁ הַשְּׁמִינִי-בַּחֹדֶשׁ אֲשֶׁר-בָּדָא מִלִּבּוֹ; וַיַּעַשׂ חָג לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וַיַּעַל עַל-הַמִּזְבֵּחַ לְהַקְטִיר."

Jeroboam

Some might suggest, as the author mentioned, that this Festival was just a trick that was created by Jeroboam to distance the people of Israel from the Temple that was in Judah. However, we can view the postponement of the festival to the following month as an issue of compatibility with weather of the north. Jeroboam could have cancelled the festival entirely to prevent the Israelites from going north to Judah, but even he knew Sukkot couldn’t be cancelled; it’s the time to rejoice!, The same principle was just as important for Ezra, when the people of the exile came back to Judah (see Ezra 3:4).

The Book of Nehemiah also describes this festival as a time to rejoice and dance (See also Ecclesiastes 3:4- this is the scroll that we read on Sukkot)-

"So the people went out and brought them and made booths for themselves, each on his roof, and in their courts and in the courts of the house of God, and in the square at the Water Gate and in the square at the Gate of Ephraim. The entire assembly of those who had returned from the captivity made booths and lived in them. The sons of Israel had indeed not done so from the days of Joshua the son of Nun to that day. And there was great rejoicing."(Nehemiah 8:16-17)

 "וַיֵּצְאוּ הָעָם וַיָּבִיאוּ וַיַּעֲשׂוּ לָהֶם סֻכּוֹת אִישׁ עַל-גַּגּוֹ וּבְחַצְרֹתֵיהֶם, וּבְחַצְרוֹת בֵּית הָאֱלֹהִים-וּבִרְחוֹב שַׁעַר הַמַּיִם, וּבִרְחוֹב שַׁעַר אֶפְרָיִם. וַיַּעֲשׂוּ כָל-הַקָּהָל הַשָּׁבִים מִן-הַשְּׁבִי סֻכּוֹת וַיֵּשְׁבוּ בַסֻּכּוֹת-כִּי לֹא-עָשׂוּ מִימֵי יֵשׁוּעַ בִּן-נוּן כֵּן בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, עַד הַיּוֹם הַהוּא; וַתְּהִי שִׂמְחָה גְּדוֹלָה מְאֹד."

Happy Sukkot dear friends! As always, I invite you to comment or send me any questions you may have about the Hebrew Bible!

Eli

 
Main phrases of the post + transcription + translation

English

Transliteration

Hebrew

Booths

Sukkot

סֻכּוֹת

Rejoice

Śimchāh

שִׂמְחָה

Feast

Chāg

חָג

Compatibility

Hat'āmāh

הַתְאָמָה

Postponement

dəchiyyāh

דְּחִיָּה

Crops

təvû'āh

תְּבוּאָה

The assembly

Haqqāhāl

הַקָּהָל

 
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