Immediately after the break-fast for Yom Kippur, preparations are made for Sukkot. Sukkot falls shortly after Yom Teruah (Rosh Hashanah) and Yom Kippur, but is associated more with Pesach and Shavuot (Leviticus [Vayikra] 23:33-41).
Sukkot is the last of the seven feasts. It falls on the last seven days of the seventh month, and we are commanded to observe it seven times. Seven is the number of completion, as seen in Genesis (B’resheet) 2:2 when Elohim’s work was completed in seven days. The number seven has special significance in this, the final fall feast.
What is Sukkot?
Sukkot is first mentioned in the Bible after Ya’akov’s meeting with Esav. It is next mentioned as the place of the Israelites’ first resting place on their Exodus out of Egypt.
“Ya’akov went on to Sukkot, where he built himself a house and put up shelters for his cattle. This is why the place is called Sukkot [shelters]” (Genesis [B’resheet] 33:17).
“The people of Isra’el traveled from Ra’amses to Sukkot, some six hundred thousand men on foot, not counting children” (Exodus [Sh’mot] 12:37).
These shelters (booths) were woven together from branches and leaves to protect the animals from the sun, so sukkot later came to mean the hut or booth with the “woven” roof. Since we are commanded to build a hut or booth on this holiday as a reminder of Elohim’s sheltering care for us, this feast is called “Sukkot.” (One booth is a “sukkah,” and being a feminine noun, in Hebrew the plural becomes “sukkot”).
“You are to live in sukkot for seven days; every citizen of Israel is to live in a sukkah, so that generation after generation of you will know that I made the people of Israel live in sukkot when I brought them out of the land of Egypt; I am ADONAI your Elohim” (Leviticus [Vayikra] 23:42-43).
We physically reenact the building of these temporary shelters to remind us of the time spent in the wilderness when we were totally dependent on Elohim. According to the laws of nature, the nation should have perished from their lack of food, water, road map, and mall to buy new clothes and shoes when they wore out in forty years. ADONAI met each need in abundance, so we celebrate this holiday to remember His faithfulness and our dependence on Him. The sukkah was purposely made flimsy and constructed outside. It should be made so the stars can be seen through the roof and rain can fall in. This is to show our dependence on Elohim as our protector and provider, not some wood or brick building. When we are outside, we are closer to nature, and it is easier to physically see how Elohim is so obviously taking charge of things. It also makes us aware of how fragile human life is. We get another lesson in trusting Elohim as our protector and provider. Most Jews today just visit a sukkah, or at best, eat a meal in one. Remember that Elohim has commanded us to actually dwell in a sukkah for seven days! Try it — it can be like camping out in your own backyard!
Although the sukkah is primitive and may be flimsy, it may also be a thing of beauty. We are commanded to do three things for the sukkah: live in it, gather lulav (heart of palm) and etrog (wild lemon), and enjoy the feast! Part of the enjoyment is to engage the whole family in building and decorating the sukkah. Children can participate so they too may know Elohim’s provision. If they are too young to actually construct the sukkah, they can make decorations such as paper chains or drawings to hang once it is constructed. If there is no space to build one outside, the family can make a miniature sukkah out of twigs and leaves on a tabletop.
Sukkot is celebrated this time of year because it is associated with the ancient Israeli cycle of agriculture. Fall marked the final harvest when the fields’ abundance was gathered in thankfulness. A reference to this is mentioned in Isaiah (Yeshayahu) 1:8 where there were temporary huts, or “sukkot,” for the harvesters in the vineyard. The watchmen in the fields who protected the ripe harvest before it could be gathered occupied these huts.
Eight days of the feast
- Tishri 15: 1st day, Shabbat rest
- Tishri 16: 2nd day, enjoy the festival
- Tishri 17: 3rd day, Chol HaMoed (1st intermediate day)
- Tishri 18: 4th day, Chol HaMoed (2nd intermediate day)
- Tishri 19: 5th day, Chol HaMoed (3rd intermediate day)
- Tishri 20: 6th day, Chol HaMoed (4th intermediate day)
- Tishri 21: 7th day, Hoshanah Rabbah (“the night of the Great Salvation”)
- Tishri 22: 8th day, Shimini Atzaret (“solemn assembly,” a Shabbat rest, also known as Simchat Torah)
- Tishri 23: 9th day, is called Isru Hag (“Binding the holiday, as to not let go of the time of joy”) Psalms [Tehillim] 118:27 – A Messianic song
Symbolism in the Sukkah
Building a sukkah can also have spiritual meaning for believers: the world and its material things are a spiritual desert, or even a wilderness. We would wither without Messiah’s intervention on our behalf. Without His presence, power, and provision, we would be left naked, destitute, and in darkness.
“For in your presence we are temporary residents, just passing through, as all our ancestors were, our days on earth are like a shadow, without hope” (I Chronicles [Divrei-HaYamim Alef] 29:15).
This verse should cause us to reflect on how much we rely on earthly things, the temporary trappings of the world that have no eternal value. Spending time in the sukkah, remembering how Elohim led the nation of Israel to the Promised Land, reinforces our faith that Elohim will keep His promise to us, that He will guide us to our permanent home, heaven.
“We know that when the tent which houses us here on earth is torn down, we have a permanent building from Elohim, a building not made by human hands, to house us in heaven” (II Corinthians 5:1).
While only temporary, the sukkah experience is to be enjoyable. Rabbis have said that you are not to eat your meal in the sukkah if it is raining. This would detract some of the joy of this feast, one we are actually commanded to enjoy:
“Seven days you are to keep the festival for ADONAI your Elohim in the place ADONAI your Elohim will choose, because ADONAI your Elohim will bless you in all your crops and in all your work, so you are to be full of joy!” (Deuteronomy [D’varim] 16:15).
The rabbis have given another name for this feast, “Zeman Simchateinu,” or “seasons of our joy.” The rejoicing should not just be for Elohim’s provision of our daily bread, but also for our spiritual food. This is why Sukkot is so closely tied with the High Holidays.
The theme of Yom Teruah (Rosh Hashanah) is repentance and a turning to Elohim. Then we are to examine our relationship with Him in the ten Days of Awe. This leads us to experience His redemption on Yom Kippur, realizing we have our atonement through Yeshua. It naturally follows that we can now rejoice in Elohim’s forgiveness during Sukkot.
Different names, same feast
Now we can see how we derive the different names associated with Sukkot:
- “Hag HaSukkot:” Festival of Booths (Leviticus [Vayikra] 23:24)
- “Hag Ha’Asif:” Festival of Ingathering (Exodus [Sh’mot] 23:16)
- “Zeman Simchateinu:” Season of our Rejoicing (Deuteronomy [D’varim] 16:14)
- “Hag;” The Feast (Leviticus [Vayikra] 23:39-41)
- “Hoshanah Rabbah:” The Great Hoshanah (the seventh day of the feast)
- “Shimini Atzeret:” Solemn Assembly (the eighth day of the feast)
- “Simchat Torah:” Rejoicing in the Law (the ninth day of the feast, or the second day of Shimini Atzeret, often considered a separate holiday)
Sukkot is also known as the “Feast of ADONAI,” or simply “The Feast.” In Hebrew, the word feast is “hag,” and its root means “to dance” or “to be joyous” before ADONAI. This feast was the biggest ceremony in Bible times.
The name “The Feast of the Ingathering” has dual meanings: the final agricultural harvest, and an “ingathering,” because Sukkot is one of the three feasts where all men are required to appear before Elohim in Jerusalem.
“Three times a year all your men must appear before ADONAI your Elohim at the place He will choose: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Weeks, and the Feast of Tabernacles. No man should appear before ADONAI empty-handed” (Deuteronomy [D’varim] 16:16).
The last part of the verse mentions the people are not to come empty-handed before ADONAI. No other feast required so many sacrifices, as spelled out in detail in Numbers (B’midbar) 29:12-39. It is also interesting to note how many times the number seven is used: seven days, seventy bullocks, fourteen rams, ninety-eight lambs; they are all divisible by seven. Altogether, there were 182 animals mentioned (26 x 7). Added to this, was the 336 tenths Ephah of flour for the meal offering (48 x 7). It is like the number seven, symbolizing completion, is imprinted on this, the seventh feast in the seventh month. Does this idea of “completion” symbolize something else?
While the idea of “ingathering” signifies the presentation of crops before ADONAI, and the gathering of Israelites to Jerusalem, believers can also see it as the “ingathering” of Yeshua’s children. Yeshua says to those who believe in Him:
“In my Father’s house, there are many places to live. If there weren’t, I would have told you; because I am going there to prepare a place for you. Since I am going and preparing a place for you, I will return to take you with me; so that where I am, you may also be” (John [Yochanan] 14:2-3).
This spirit of thankfulness was especially true at the time of the Sukkot celebration with the Simchat Bet HaShoeva, the “drawing of water” ceremony when the people called upon ADONAI to provide heavenly waters for their next harvest season. This was a very grand event filled with much pomp and drama. The Feast reached its peak on the last day of Sukkot called “Shimini Atzeret,” Day of the Solemn Assembly. Accompanied by throngs of chanting worshippers and flutists, the Levitical priests went to the pool of Siloam near the temple mount. There, the priest filled a golden pitcher with water and returned to the temple. The crowd would surge through the Water Gate that was named for this ceremony. The choir and the worshippers began chanting Psalms (Tehillim) 118, the “Hallel,” or praise psalm.
“O Lord save us;
O Lord, grant us success.
Blessed is He who comes in the name of ADONAI (in Hebrew: Baruch haba b’shem ADONAI”)
From the house of ADONAI we bless you” (Psalms [Tehillim] 118:25-26).
“Hoshanah, Son of David!” (Please deliver us!) As they laid the palm branches (associated with Sukkot), in His path.
“A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,
‘Hoshanah to the Son of David!’
‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of ADONAI!’
‘Hoshanah in the highest!’” (Matthew [Mattityahu] 21:8-9)
This last day of Sukkot found Yeshua in the midst of the teeming multitudes. As the ceremony of Simchat Bet HaShoeva (water libation) was being conducted, Yeshua stood and proclaimed loudly, “If anyone is thirsty, let him keep coming to me and drinking! Whoever puts his trust in me, as the Scripture says, rivers of living water will flow from his inmost being!” (John [Yochanan] 7:37). Yeshua struck a chord with the people who knew the Scripture he was referring to:
“For I will pour water on the thirsty land and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit on your descendants, my blessing on your offspring” (Isaiah [Yeshayahu] 44:3).
This ceremony also held a deep spiritual significance. Water is a symbol of the Ruach HaKodesh, the Holy Spirit. The people were aware of this as they gathered to pray for the fall rains. The prophet Joel spoke of ADONAI pouring down the latter rains:
“Be glad, O people of Zion, rejoice in ADONAI your Elohim, for he has given you the autumn rains in righteousness. He sends you abundant showers, both autumn and spring rains, as before” (Joel [Yo’el] 2:23).
In Joel (Yo’el), the connection is made between the rains and the Spirit:
“And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions” (Joel [Yo’el] 2:28).
The Talmud, referring to this water ceremony at Sukkot, asks, “Why is the name of it called the drawing out of water? It is because of the pouring out of the Ruach HaKodesh, according to what is said. . .” (referring to Isaiah), “Then you will joyfully draw from the springs of salvation” (Isaiah [Yeshayahu] 12:3).
This is the name given to our Messiah, for “salvation” in Hebrew is Yeshua!
The Illumination of the Temple
Another feature of the Feast was the ceremony of the “illumination of the temple” featured the lighting of four enormous golden menorahs. This was a terrific spectacle, noted in rabbinical commentaries. The Mishnah says the pious worshippers would rejoice and dance well into the night, holding torches and singing songs of praise. It is said the light from these menorahs on the Temple Mount could be seen for miles!
As bright as the lights were during this joyous occasion, Yeshua proclaimed an even brighter light for all:
“I am the light of the world; whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light which gives life” (John [Yochanan] 8:12).
Yeshua offered life and redemption to all the pilgrims at Sukkot. He was announcing the coming of the Messianic Age. Zechariah describes the return of ADONAI when He will stand on the Mount of Olives. Elohim will personally deliver His people:
“On that day, his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem . . .” (Zechariah [Z’kharyah] 14:4)
Later, Zechariah [Z’kharyah] describes the unique light also present in those days and the living waters flowing out of Jerusalem:
“It will be a unique day, without daytime or nighttime — a day known to ADONAI. When evening comes, there will be light. On that day, living water will flow out from Jerusalem, half to the eastern sea, and half to the western sea, in summer and in winter” (Zechariah [Z’kharyah] 14:7-8).
In addition to the light, this verse also refers to the living waters of salvation. The multitude could continue to rejoice because of what followed in Zechariah [Z’kharyah]:
“Finally, everyone remaining from all the nations that came to attack Yerushalayim will go up every year to worship the King, ADONAI, and to keep the festival of Sukkot” (Zechariah [Z’kharyah] 14:16).
What a great Messianic prophecy! Yeshua came to the masses on the last day of Sukkot and proclaimed that there was a way for them to be cleansed of their sin so they no longer needed atonement year after year, as they had just done on Yom Kippur. He was alluding to a time Ezekiel (Yechezk’el) had prophesied about:
“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws” (Ezekiel [Yechezk’el] 36:25-27).
This feast is the most joyous of Israel’s feasts. It came at a time when the crops had been reaped and the peoples’ hearts had been naturally gladdened by the bounty. As they presented themselves in Jerusalem, they recalled when they were gathered there six months earlier, when they had dedicated their entire feast to ADONAI during First Fruits. At that time, they remembered the Exodus from Egypt and the Passover with its fulfillment of the true Passover sacrifice, the perfect Lamb of Elohim, Yeshua. Then they would recall seven weeks after that, they gathered again for the grain harvest, or Shavuot. This was remembered as the time the Torah was given on Mount Sinai. It also alludes to the time the Holy Spirit fulfilled this feast by writing the Torah on their hearts at Shavuot (Pentecost). Now, gathering for Sukkot, the people remembered Elohim’s provision in the wilderness when they had dwelled in booths. The fulfillment of the feast will be the harvest of the nations, when they will all be gathered to worship ADONAI when He returns to reign in Jerusalem:
“I heard a loud voice from the throne say, ‘See! Elohim’s Sh’chinah (Elohim’s presence) is with mankind, and he will live with them. They will be his people and he himself, Elohim-with-them, will be their Elohim” (Revelation 21:3).
There is a very good reason for rejoicing on Sukkot, especially for believers. Yom Teruah’s (Rosh Hashanah) goal is to turn the nation of Israel to repentance with the sound of the shofar. Prophetically, this will signal Messiah’s return. Yom Kippur’s theme is redemption and forgiveness through Yeshua’s atonement. One day, all Israel will recognize Him as HaMashiach (Messiah). On Sukkot, we rejoice in ADONAI’s gathering of His people to the tabernacle with Him. Then they will truly be “sealed in the Book of Life.” This refers to a future Sukkot:
“After this, I looked; and there before me was a huge crowd, too large for anyone to count, from every nation, tribe and language. They were standing in front of the throne and in front of the Lamb, dressed in white robes and holding palm branches in their hands; and they shouted, ‘Salvation belongs to our Elohim, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” (Revelation 7:9-10)
Traditions in Sukkot
Almost as common as the sukkah are the “four species,” or “lulav,” and “etrog,” ritual items derived from an interpretation of materials mentioned in Torah:
“On the first day, you are to take choice fruit, palm fronds, thick branches and river willows, and celebrate in the presence of ADONAI your Elohim for seven days” (Leviticus 23:40).
Some believe this verse describes the actual materials to be used in making a sukkah, but rabbis have agreed these materials are to be bound together and waved in rejoicing during the festival. This is where we get the “lulav” and the “etrog.”
“Etrog” is Aramaic for “that which shines.” Over time, it has come to mean a citrus fruit. Rabbis say this fruit is implied by the phrase, “foliage on goodly trees,” where “goodly” meant both the taste of the wood of the tree and the tree’s fruit. Only the citron tree fulfills these requirements. “Lulav” originally meant “sprout,” but has come to mean willow, myrtle, and palm branches. Myrtle was chosen from the phrase “boughs of leafy trees.”
Both the lulav and the etrog are used in the synagogue each day during Sukkot. The etrog is placed in the left hand, and the lulav (myrtle, willow, and palm branches bound together) is placed in the right hand, and waved in the direction of the four compass points during certain times during the Sukkot service.
Other traditions include inviting symbolic guests, or “Ushpizin” to visit the sukkah. These are Bible patriarchs such as Abraham (Avraham), Isaac (Yitz’chak), Moses (Moshe), etc. The idea is to recall those who went before us who were wanderers, those who depended on Elohim’s shelter and provision. We can use this tradition to teach our living guests about these Bible characters. This is a time to show hospitality by inviting others to share a meal under the sukkah. This would be an especially appropriate offer to anyone who does not have a sukkah of their own.
It is also traditional to recite the Hoshanah Psalm (Psalm 118) while circling the synagogue. Some have turned this into a joyous celebration by including dancers, musicians, and others waving the lulav and etrog in a loud procession.
The Megillah, or short scroll, associated with this feast is the Book of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes [Kohelet]). Its soul searching, contemplative nature, more associated with Yom Kippur, is said to balance the joyous note of Sukkot. It is traditionally read on the last day of the feast.
A tradition of Moroccan Jews is to pour water on each other, perhaps a reminder of the water ceremony in Temple times. What a great idea for our warm fall days!
Of course, the biggest tradition is building the sukkah. Traditionally, the first branches of the sukkah are lashed together just after the Yom Kippur break-fast. Each family can build one, or it may be a communal project, involving the whole synagogue. In addition, children can put a small sukkah together.
The best choices of materials are natural branches or other organic items, such as bamboo. Some people use branches from Magnolia trees that have a fragrance to encourage people to stay in the sukkah. If possible, the items should be secured with rope or twine instead of nails, again to emphasize the structure’s temporary nature. However, make sure your sukkah doesn’t come crashing down on a table full of guests! A string of outdoor lanterns, a rug, hay bales, or potted plants will make the sukkah inviting. All types of natural items can be suspended from the “skhakh,” or roof of the sukkah. Apples and pears are easily tied by the stem, and will stay fresh for the length of the feast. Some use the seven fruits of harvest mentioned in Deuteronomy (D’varim) 8:8, such as wheat, barley, vines, figs, pomegranates, olives, and honeycomb. This is another symbol of Elohim’s blessing of provision for us.
Shemini Atzeret & Simchat Torah
Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah conclude Sukkot. Some authorities consider Shemini Atzeret a separate festival, but its connection to Sukkot is realized from Scripture:
“For seven days, present offerings made to ADONAI by fire, and on the eighth day hold a sacred assembly and present an offering made to ADONAI by fire. It is the closing assembly; do no regular work” (Leviticus [Vayikra] 23:36).
“On the eighth day, hold an assembly and do no regular work” (Numbers [B’midbar] 29:35).
“Shemini” means “eighth,” while “Atzeret” means “gathering” or “assembly.” It derives from the Hebrew root “atzar,” meaning “to hold back,” or “to tarry.” In that connotation, it is considered an extra day to spend with ADONAI. The Talmud explains that it is similar to a great king inviting diplomatic guests to a weeklong feast. On the last day, he calls his son aside and tells him, “While all these strangers were around, we hardly had an opportunity for an intimate conversation. Would you not stay for just one more day so we can have a simple feast by ourselves?” A rabbinical turn on this is how, during the seven days of Sukkot, Israel intercedes for the world, a reference perhaps to this verse:
“Then the survivors from all the nations that have attacked Jerusalem will go up year after year to worship the King, ADONAI Almighty, and to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles. If any of the peoples of the earth do not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, ADONAI Almighty, they will have no rain” (Zechariah [Z’kharyah] 14:16-17).
Israel then takes one last day to be alone with Elohim.
As a separate holiday, Shemini Atzeret has fewer rituals than the preceding feasts. It is traditional to read one of the five “Megillot,” or scrolls, Ecclesiastes (Kohelet), and recite “Yizkor,” the memorial prayer for the dead. Perhaps Ecclesiastes (Kohelet) is read for its somber introspection, a balance to the joyousness of Sukkot, and an expression of the soul-searching associated with Yom Teruah (Rosh Hashanah) and Yom Kippur.
The mood swings upward again a day later on Simchat Torah. In Israel, this day is considered the second day of Shemini Atzeret, not a separate feast. In the Diaspora, it is either a separate feast, or considered the ninth day of Sukkot. In either case, this day is not mentioned in Scripture, and did not develop until the Middle Ages (ninth century). At that time, the three-year cycle of reading through the Torah, ending on Pesach, gave way to a one-year cycle, ending on Shemini Atzeret. This way, a different portion of the Torah is read each week, so the entire Torah was read in a year. Since the cycle of Torah readings would begin again, this became a joyous day. Thus, the name “Simchat Torah,” “rejoicing in the Torah.” What would otherwise have been a day of tediously re-rolling all the Torah scrolls to their beginnings now became a very joyous festival involving the whole family.
Traditions for this day include reading the last verses of Deuteronomy (D’varim) and the first verses of Genesis (B’resheet). Jewish tradition did not want to leave the slightest impression that we are ever finished studying Elohim’s word. A portion of Joshua (Y’hoshua) is also read to show that Elohim’s word extends even beyond the Torah. As believers, we can consider the eternal nature of the Word:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with Elohim, and the Word was Elohim” (John [Yochanan] 1:1).
In synagogues that read from the actual Torah scroll, rewinding the scroll is a great ceremony. It is considered an honor to be called on to help with this task. Also, the Torah scrolls are carried in a circle seven times around the sanctuary in a joyous parade called “hakafot.” Children are given flags or small scrolls to follow in the procession. Candles are put in the ark instead of the scrolls, a reminder that Elohim’s law is our light:
“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path” (Psalms [Tehillim] 119:105).
Also, as Yeshua reminded us when He was at the Temple on Sukkot:
“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John [Yochanan] 8:12).
We take delight in our celebration of the Torah as mentioned in Psalms (Tehillim):
“Let your compassion come to me that I may live, for your law is my delight” (Psalms [Tehillim] 119:77).
“I rejoice in your promise like one who finds great spoil” (Psalms [Tehillim] 119:162).
“I long for your salvation, O LORD, and your law is my delight” (Psalms [Tehillim] 119:174).
Sweets are appropriate during this Feast time to remind us:
“How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Psalms [Tehillim] 119:103)
As believers, we can rejoice in the Living Word:
“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John [Yochanan] 1:14).
About The Author
Rabbi Amnon and Rebbetzin Lynette Shor are international conference speakers on prophetic subjects, the Middle East conflict, Biblical holidays, and Jewish cultural life. Rabbi Shor has appeared on many radio and television programs which include CBS, CBN, TBN, and Jewish Voice. He has also worked with Promise Keepers as the international liaison to Israel and the Middle East, and with the Road to Jerusalem Ministry as global spokesman.
Rabbi Amnon Shor, was born in Israel to an orthodox Jewish family. His grandfather Zachariah was a Rabbi in the local synagogue. Rabbi Shor learned the Old Testament and the Jewish Law from early childhood. After his service in the Israeli Army, where he fought the Egyptian Army in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, he set out to see the world working for EL-AL Israel’s Airlines , where he met his wife of 41 years Lynette. They have three children and seven grandchildren.