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Vayikra/Leviticus 23:40 And you shall rejoice before Adonai your G-d seven days
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Taking up the lulav and the etrog, the four species: date palm, citron, myrtle and willow, the Israelites are to rejoice beforeHaShem for seven days. The verb a Qal Affix 2mp form with a vav-reversive, comes from the root which means to shine cheerfully, to be joyful or glad, to express joy (Davidson). Sukkot is referred to by the rabbis as z'man simkhateynu - the time of our rejoicing - and uniquely among the instructions for the feasts to be found in Vayikra chapter 23, Sukkot is the only feast at which we are commanded to rejoice. At other feasts we cease from work, we bring offerings, we wave produce, we humble our souls, we hold holy convocations and - of course - we rest, but at Sukkot we live in temporary shelters, we take some elements of nature as a proof of G-d's provision, and we rejoice before HaShem our G-d for seven days. Our rejoicing is to shine out like a beacon, a sign that G-d is with us, and is to inspire our worship over this time as we carry out our priestly function for as a nation, interceding for the other nations of the world, offering sacrifices on their behalf that all may one day come willingly under the hand of our G-d. Alone among the feasts of the L-rd, the Feast of Pesach, the Feast of Weeks, the Feast of Purim or Hanukkah - although often given its full title: the Feast of Tabernacles or the Feast of Ingathering - Sukkot is also known simply as "The Feast" because of its joyful nature and the celebrations that last for a whole week.
Ever keen to understand and enter fully into any of the commandments, our sages wanted to know how to rejoice, what was involved in rejoicing and how much to rejoice.Pesikta de Rab Kahana records that the rabbis noticed that David begs the Holy One, "'Make me know the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy' (Psalm 16:11): Master of the universe, make me know which gate is open toward life in the world to come!" Naturally, there was more than one answer. Rabbi Yudan suggested that G-d replies to him like this: "David, do you desire life there? Look as from a watch tower to a life lived in fear of the L-rd, since 'The fear of the L-rd prolongs days' (Proverbs 10:27)"; Rabbi Azariah, on the other hand, suggested this answer: "David, do you desire life there? Look as from a watch tower for affliction, since 'Reproofs of affliction are the way of life' (Proverbs 6:23)." Rabbi Yudan finds support in the words of Samuel the prophet: "I will instruct you in the good and right way; only fear the L-rd and serve Him in truth with all your heart, for consider what great things He has done for you" (1 Samuel 12:23-24, NASB); should we not rejoice when we remember all the goodness of G-d both in this year and in all the years before, as we say in the prayer, "... who has preserved us and sustained us and has brought us to this time." Rabbi Azariah, meanwhile, is encouraged by James in his letter where he says, "Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance" (James 1:2-3, NASB). Yeshua also answers David's request to know the way or gate to life: "Go in through the narrow gate; for the gate that leads to destruction is wide and the road broad, and many travel it; but it a narrow gate and a hard road that leads to life, and only a few find it" (Matthew 7:13-14, CJB). This too is a lifestyle in which to rejoice as we follow our Master as the words of the hymn declare: "O happy band of pilgrims, if onward you will tread, with Yeshua as your fellow, to Yeshua as your head." (John M. Neale, 1862, based upon Joseph the Hymnographer, c. 840).
Continuing the theme of joy and light, the rabbis also noticed that in the phrase "fullness of joy", the word for joy is plural. By re-pointing the word , sova, as , sheva, it becomes 'seven' rather than 'fullness' and the rabbis searched out seven ways in which the righteous shine: like the sun (Song 6:10), like the moon (Song 6:10), like the firmament (Dan 12:3), like lightening (Nahum 2:5), like the stars (Daniel 12:3), like lilies (Psalm 69:1) and like the menorah in the temple (Zechariah 4:2). Another seven are the elements of Sukkot: the four species, the sukkah itself, the festal peace offering and a joyous peace offering.
How, then, are we to shine as believers? Yeshua taught, "Now no-one after lighting a lamp covers it over with a container, or puts it under a bed, but he puts it on a lampstand, in order that those who come in may see the light" (Luke 8:16, NASB). Yeshua Himself is "the Light of the World" (John 9:5) and He placed His light in us, telling the disciples that "You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden" (Matthew 5:14, NASB). He wants us to shine and to be seen, to provide light for those around us. Rav Sha'ul encouraged believers to be "blameless and pure children of G-d, without defect in the midst of a twisted and perverse generation, among whom you shine like stars in the sky" (Philippians 2:15, NIV) echoing the words of Daniel. G-d's first act of creation was to create light and separate it from darkness (Genesis 1:3-4); this was at a physical level, but pointed to the spiritual level: "For G-d, who said, 'Light shall shine out of darkness,' is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of G-d in the face of Messiah" (2 Corinthians 4:6, NASB).
Further Study: Nehemiah 8:9-12; Isaiah 35:1-4; Ephesians 5:8-10
Application: How can you rejoice and shine before G-d this Sukkot? Is your life full of joy so that others see and want what you have? Ask G-d to fill you to overflowing so that there will be plenty to share with those whom He has put around you.
© Jonathan Allen, 2008
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