My wife grew up reading a book series by Laura Ingalls-Wilder called the Little House on the Prairie. Maybe you’ve heard of it, I don’t know. It’s apparently pretty famous. The series starts shortly after the end of the civil war, in a little house in the big woods in Wisconsin and follows Ingalls-Wilder’s childhood during the westwards expansion. Her parents (sorry, her Ma and Pa) eventually end up in South Dakota as the series goes on. (I refuse to acknowledge the existence of any kind of TV-series). Laura Ingalls-Wilder lived to the 1950s and experienced flying in an airplane… it’s really amazing to think what that generation experienced. I read through the books myself, and the history nerd in me just loves it. I also read a famous Swedish book series about Swedish emigrants to Minnesota in the 1840s, which covers some earlier American history (The Emigrants by Vilhelm Moberg).
You Americans have a fascinating heritage. People arrived to escape oppression and find a free haven, but they didn’t ask anyone to give them anything for free. All they wanted was freedom and a piece of land to build their own house and grow their own food. I can only imagine the resourcefulness of these people. Knowing how to build a house, grow a field, keep livestock, and just survive out in the wilderness with nothing except your own bare hands.
There is something deeply spiritual with that kind of lifestyle. It forces you to really trust God with your very life. And this is what we try to at least partly recreate when we celebrate Sukkot and build our small tabernacles or huts in our gardens and balconies. We may be too modern and comfortable to live in a little house on the prairie, but we can take a week a year and live in a little house on the balcony.
“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
The American pilgrims couldn’t rely on a government or laws to protect them if anything happened. If a plague hit your home and you were too sick to harvest your crops, you starved. If locusts attacked and ate all your produce, you starved. If you couldn’t find water, you died. If bandits or Indians attacked you and you didn’t have any guns, you were dead. Just like the American pilgrims, the people of Israel had to trust God with everything, including their very existence, while they went through the desert for forty years.
Truth is, we still do. We just don’t think about it. The strong concrete structures we live in today and the governments we rely on to provide security and law and order can all break down at any time. The latest world events have made me more aware of this than ever. Who would believe that the 2020s would start with a worldwide pandemic, and then the largest land war in Europe since World War Two?
We easily forget how much we have to rely on God for everything. Camping can help a little (and it’s also awesome), especially if you can do the whole backcountry camping experience. But for those who don’t do that, there is still this holiday. It’s not a lot, but it’s something. One week a year, we leave the comfort of our concrete homes, and build a little hut on our balcony or in our garden. And God decree we do this at a time when it’s starting to become a little colder, just so we remember that “It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in humans. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes.” Psalm 118:8.
The Sukka really symbolizes “God With Us” – Emanuel. Yeshua took his temporary dwelling among us on this day (since he was probably born on Sukkot), and by the sheer existence right after Yom Kippur, it symbolizes the joy of being with the Lord in heaven after the day of judgment. Being closer to his creation, in a temporary dwelling, brings us closer to him.
Sukkot played a part in modeling the new holiday of Thanksgiving, which is now the defining holiday that has become the trademark of the early American pilgrims. That is no accident. The pilgrims loved the concept of Sukkot and adopted it to themselves. The USA might be a relatively new country, but this ancient holiday of Sukkot is probably the most American pilgrimesque holiday there is in the Bible.
So the next time someone tells you America is not in the Bible – just show them the feast of Sukkot.
This article originally appeared on Tuvia’s blog, Oct. 5, 2022, and is reposted with permission.