This week we celebrate Sukkot and focus on the Exodus from Egypt. We also learn about the commandments concerning Sukkot, the importance of teaching and educating our children, and the values of the “lulav” (the four species).
This Shabbat the Torah reading will be different. Not the weekly Torah portion, but rather the reading is designated especially to Sukkot: Leviticus 22:26-23:44. The Haftarah (the reading from the prophets) is Zechariah 14:1-21. For the New Testament, we suggest reading John 7:1-44.
What is a Sukkah and what is its purpose?
“Live in temporary shelters for seven days: All native-born Israelites are to live in such shelters so your descendants will know that I had the Israelites live in temporary shelters when I brought them out of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” – Leviticus 23:42,43
When the People of Israel went out of Egypt and wandered the desert, they lived in “Sukkot”, a type of tent, or booth. Our dwelling in the Sukkah emphasizes how the people of Israel dwelled in Sukkot then, and it reminds us of the Exodus from Egypt.
The Exodus is a biblical cornerstone, but it also has been in the Jewish history and culture since its very beginning. God takes a group of slaves through the Red Sea and takes them out to be a free nation. We can point at that place and time, that it was exactly at this point in history that God made “The People of Israel”.
Who is God? God is “the God of Israel”! He freed us from slavery and granted us freedom! Our whole nation belongs to Him, and we carry God’s identity as He is “the God of Israel”.
The Ten Commandments are the foundation of the Torah, and open with the following phrase:
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.” – Exodus 20:2,3
The God who created the entire world, the universe and mankind, chooses to represent Himself as the God who took Israel out of Egypt. Through which He Himself created “the People of Israel”.
This term enables us to separate God from other gods. There are those that claim that the term “god” is actually such a universal code name, that it belongs to everyone and all of mankind serves god. There are some that call Him different names but that in the end we all serve the same entity (this is not true).
So, how do we separate between God and other gods?
We can do so with this simple question:
Did this or another god take Israel out of Egypt? Gave Israel the promised land?
If the answer is “no”, it means that that idol isn’t God. So, Who is God?
God is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of the Bible who took Israel out of Egypt. He is the “Mighty One of Jacob” (Genesis 49:24), the “Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 30:15), besides whom there is no other God.
Therefore, most of the Biblical feasts, including Shabbat, commemorate the Exodus from Egypt. The Exodus isn’t only the deliverance from the slavery we endured in Egypt, but He set us free eternally. He led us to the promised land, according to the same promise that He made to our forefather Abraham.
The Exodus from Egypt is a prototype for the ultimate story of redemption, which is the story of our salvation through Yeshua the Messiah. Yeshua took us out of slavery and brought us eternal freedom.
This point is the most essential and crucial for our children and for ourselves: God commands us and expects us to remember the Exodus from Egypt forever and ever. Here we are as the very distant descendants of Abraham and we still remember.
This generation, too, must pass on the story of salvation to our children and the children of our children. Our national story of redemption (the Exodus from Egypt) and the story of the salvation of the entire world:
“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.” – John 3:16,17
The story of the world’s salvation is interwoven with the story of our personal salvation, thanks to Yeshua the Messiah. The main reason for building the Sukkah can be seen in the following phrase:
“…so your descendants will know that I had the Israelites live in temporary shelters when I brought them out of Egypt.” – Leviticus 23:43b
Our Sukkah serves the purpose to teach the next generations, to ensure our continuation and our future.
Truly, the essence of most of the biblical feasts is to teach our children our history and to teach and pass on our culture and the Torah between generations.
Every year again children enjoy building and decorating the Sukkah with their parents and to them it’s very important to have “the most beautiful and inviting Sukkah”.
With that being said, Sukkot allows families to have a nice experience of going outside and enjoying a nice family picnic. More importantly, however, when we dwell in our Sukkah for a week, we enable ourselves the feeling of living in a temporary home, and thus experiencing a little taste of the Exodus.
This is a lively way to connect our family and invest in the education of our children. It also is a good way to pass on the generational heritage (as God commanded us).
Another commandment for Sukkot is the usage of the “lulav”, also known as the four species, namely: a palm branch, three branches of myrtle, two willow branches and an etrog (also known as a “citron”) (Leviticus 23:40).
Traditionally, the Jewish world is divided into four categories. Not just saints and evil people, not only good or bad. Every one of the four species symbolize the characteristics of taste or smell, and together they symbolize the whole of mankind.
- Etrog or “citron”: taste and a good smell.
- Lulav: taste (from its fruit, the date), but no smell .
- Myrtle: smell, but no taste.
- Willow: no taste and no smell .
This division symbolizes different types of people:
- Smell and taste: these are people that have both faith and good deeds.
- Taste without smell: people who have faith, but have no good deeds.
- Smell without taste: those that do good deeds, are good people, but don’t observe the Torah, and have no faith.
- No taste and no smell: people without faith, and without good deeds.
As we hold the lulav, we unite the four species closely together, as a symbol of unity, teaching our kids that every individual completes the other, we cannot say “God only wants the etrog”, meaning, only people with faith and good deeds. We teach our children that the etrog isn’t enough to fulfil the commandment.
We also need the myrtle and palm branches. God also wants the people who have good intentions and goodwill, who have faith or a positive life style that influence their surroundings.
In order to complete the commandment, we add the willow: the minority without strong faith and without clear actions. We unite them closely, too, as they complete us, and, all of us together make up a united group (a people, a congregation, a group, a family).
This unity enables us all to have taste and smell. The united group finds favor in the eyes of the Lord. And, likewise, collectively we fulfill the commandment of the four species.
A similar idea can be found at Pesach (Passover), where we speak of the four sons that are mentioned in the Torah: one wise, one evil, one simple, and one that doesn’t know how to ask.
When describing them as characters we could say there are four characteristics, namely: a good character, a bad character, and two mediocre characters.
This idea clashes with the Western/Greek worldview that teaches that there are just two types, namely: good and evil. I would like to further examine the Parable of the Sower (Mathew 13) according to the idea of the four sons and four species. The parable of Yeshua speaks of four types of people, as there are four types of ground,
“…until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you will return.” – Genesis 3:19b
As believers we got used to the thought that there are two sides only: “good or evil”, “black or white”. Due to this way of thinking, we got used to the idea that there are three types of “bad ground” or at least “not good”, and only one good type of soil that gives a lot of fruit.
The four sons that we speak about at Pesach, the four species that we speak of at Sukkot, and the parable of Yeshua speak about the most of us. They all picture that most people reside somewhere in the middle.
When we read the parable of Yeshua, we see that there is a good type of soil that brings forth a lot of fruit. We are likewise when we enter the congregation, the house of the Lord: we all pray, we all sing, and all worship. On shabbat (or when we meet), we are the good soil…
But what happens on the other days of the week? What about our everyday life?
At the end of the line we are all in the gray, like in the parable of Yeshua. We all choke from worries of rent, payments, work, educating our children, family problems, disagreements and anger, tiredness, despair, depression and heartbreak. Who of us can testify that s/he is the “good ground” that bears hundreds of good and useful fruit?
We have to understand that we are part of a group, part of a community. The congregation (like that of Yeshua) completes the areas that I lack at.
One of the expressions of unity at the congregation is mutual aid, praying for one another, strengthening each other. We all fall (we get overwhelmed or are thirsty for the living water).
As a congregation we must help each other get back to our feet. Which is exactly the importance of a congregation in the daily life of a believer. In any congregation, when looking to our left or right, we see the four species, those that believe more and those that believe a bit less. We see the people that we love more and those that we love a bit less, but together we are one congregation.
Yeshua has one body that is made up of all of us together. United into a very colorful, human mosaic.
Shabbat shalom and have a Happy Holiday!
This article originally appeared on Netivyah, October 1, 2020, and reposted with permission.