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Vayikra/Leviticus 23:39 But on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you gather in the produce of the Land, you shall celebrate the feast of the L-rd seven days.
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The first word in our text, , is variously translated 'but' (above and NJB), 'however' (Sforno), 'now' (NRSV) and 'mark' (JPS); other translations go further: "So, beginning with" (NIV), "On exactly" (NASB) and even "Remember" (NLT). The same word also introduces the instructions for Yom Kippur: ", But on the tenth of the seventh month" (v. 27). The Sforno comments that the word 'however' marks this feast out as being different from any of the other festivals and lists three reasons: the length, eight days; dwelling in booths; waving of the arba minim. Ibn Ezra, on the other hand, explicitly compares the text here with that for Yom Kippur: "because the section on Yom Kippur - on which self-denial is practised - started with 'mark', one must specially 'mark' that on this festival self-denial is forbidden: 'You shall rejoice in your festival ... and you shall have nothing but joy' (D'varim 16:14-15, JPS)." The Rashbam agrees with him: "although Yom Teruah and Yom Kippur are days of remembrance and atonement, Sukkot is for rejoicing and giving thanks to G-d, for filling their homes with all good things during the days of ingathering."
The Sages inPesikta Rabbati want to know why this verse talks about the fifteenth day of the month, whereas the next verse immediately starts with "On the first day ..." (Vayikra 23:40, JPS). Concluding that this cannot be the first day of the month, as it has only just said the fifteenth, so must be the first day of the feast, they ask, "Why should Scripture have shifted over from counting by days in the month to counting by days in the festival?" Why the change of focus? After pointing out that Israel has just been through YomTeruah and Yom Kippur, Rabbi Mani of Shaab and Rabbi Joshua of Siknin answer that "When the Holy One sees Israel resolved upon complete penitence, He forgives all sins and writes off Israel's debt to Him, as it is written 'For on this day atonement shall be made for you to cleanse you of all your sins; you shall be clean before the L-RD2 (16:30, JPS)." When Israel sees that HaShem has made atonement for them, what do they do - why, during the four days between Yom Kippur and Sukkot they build sukkas and prepare for a party. Rabbi Mani and Rabbi Joshua finish: "The Holy One says to them: Let bygones be bygones. From this moment on commences a new reckoning. Today is to be the first day in the new reckoning of iniquities. As Scripture says, 'On the first day ...' (23:40)". Michael Carasik cites the Bekhor Shor saying, "We rejoice on all the festivals, but on this festival is nothing but joy. The harvest is all gathered under lock and key; and now that the Day of Atonement has passed, our sins have been forgiven."
Baruch Levine picks up on the agricultural phrase "when you gather in the produce of the Land" and comments that "this is the basis for the older name of the festival, used in Shemot 23:16 and 34:22, , 'the Pilgrimage Festival of Ingathering'." RabbiHirsch then explains why Sukkot is not celebrated during Nisan, in the Spring when Israel first built shelters in the desert as they came out of Egypt, but explicitly by HaShem's command here, in the autumn, using the time and symbolism of harvest: "At just the time when the nation sees itself in the greatest contrast to its condition in the wilderness is it to revive the memory of that life in the wilderness throughout its generations, so that the realisation of the conviction which a forty years experience in the wilderness had forged into a certainty for the whole nation who did experience it should be the foundation for life under quite opposite conditions." The festival of tabernacles is celebrated at a time of harvest and plenty, but out of doors in a temporary hut built of harvest waste, in order to remember that they had once been poor and completely dependant on G-d's hand. Perhaps this is what Moshe has in view when he tells the Israelites, "When you have eaten your fill, and have built fine houses to live in, and your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold have increased, and everything you own has prospered, beware lest your heart grow haughty and you forget the L-RD your G-d ... and you say to yourselves, 'My own power and the might of my own hand have won this wealth for me'" (D'varim 8:12-14,17, JPS). Rav Sha'ul warns the Corinthian church about the same thing: "After all, what makes you so special? What do you have that you didn't receive as a gift? And if in fact it was a gift, why do you boast as if it weren't?" (1 Corinthians 4:7, CJB).
How can we, then, rejoice before the L-rd over this coming festival? Firstly, in knowing that our sins are forgiven in Yeshua the Messiah. Sha'ul tells us that, "if anyone is in Messiah, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come" (2 Corinthians 5:17, ESV). This is not a subjective, make-me-feel-good matter; this is an objective fact. When we place our trust and faith in Messiah we become new people; to use the well-known cliché, we have been "born again". Yeshua put it this way: "Whoever hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life" (John 5:24, ESV). Notice the tenses used here and the unconditional nature of Yeshua's words: there is no 'will' or 'may', neither is there any 'if'. When we believe and trust in Yeshua, we pass from death - our lives here on this earth in a state of death and that lead to death - to life, to a new life both here on this earth and in the new heaven and earth, a life that starts today and will go on for ever. That's worth shouting about. Let's raise a toast: L'chaim - To Life!
Secondly, when we come to know Yeshua, we accept His invitation to enter the kingdom of G-d. We come into relationship with Yeshua - "If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with Me" (Revelation 3:20, ESV) - and with Father G-d: "If someone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him" (John 14:23, CJB). This means that whether Jew or Gentile, we have access to G-d at any time - "through Him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father" (Ephesians 2:18, ESV) - to laugh, cry, rant, sing, shout, whisper or anything in between: "Throw all your anxieties upon Him, because He cares about you" (1 Peter 5:7, CJB). He has promised to provide for us practically - "Don't be anxious, asking, 'What will we eat?,' 'What will we drink?' or 'How will we be clothed?' For it is the pagans who set their hearts on all these things. Your heavenly Father knows you need them all. But seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well" (Matthew 6:31-33, CJB) - and financially: "Keep your lives free from the love of money; and be satisfied with what you have; for G-d himself has said, 'I will never fail you or abandon you.' Therefore, we say with confidence, 'ADONAI is my helper; I will not be afraid - what can a human being do to me?'" (Hebrews 13:5-6, CJB). Let's raise another toast: L'chaim - To Life!
Thirdly, and this has just been hinted at in the last verse, Yeshua has promised never to leave us. This promise was given to Ya'akov - "Look, I am with you. I will guard you wherever you go, and I will bring you back into this land, because I won't leave you until I have done what I have promised you." (B'resheet 28:15, CJB) - to Joshua - "No one will be able to withstand you as long as you live. Just as I was with Moshe, so I will be with you. I will neither fail you nor abandon you" (Joshua 1:5, CJB) - to the Servant of the L-rd - "Don't be afraid, for I am with you; don't be distressed, for I am your G-d. I give you strength, I give you help, I support you with my victorious right hand" (Isaiah 41:10, CJB) - and to us: "I will be with you always, yes, even until the end of the age" (Matthew 28:20, CJB). G-d gives us a hope and a future - "I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the L-RD in the land of the living! Wait for the L-RD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the L-RD!" (Psalm 27:13, ESV) - rather than the depressing outlook that the world has to offer. Let's hear that toast again: L'chaim - To Life!
We have a lot to celebrate every day, because G-d's promises are real and we have a living relationship with Him in Yeshua. But, for just a week, Sukkot offers more than that; Sukkot is the celebration when we remember that Yeshua came into the world and tabernacled with us (John 1:14) - so we live in a tabernacle, we live in just one small space rather than the whole of our houses to remember that Yeshua set aside His glory (Philippians 2:6-7) and took on human flesh to walk this earth with us. Sukkot is the festival where we look up at the stars and remember G-d's promise to Avraham (B'resheet 15:5-6) - so we live in a tabernacle as Avraham lived in a tent (Hebrews 11:9) and remember that we are children of Avraham by faith (Galatians 3:7). This is celebrating the feast!
Further Study: D'varim 6:10-12
Will you celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles this year? Why not make sure
that you can visit a Sukkah, live outside the security of bricks and mortar
with Yeshua and take Him in your hands like the lulav and etrog
to show the world you belong to Him.
© Jonathan Allen, 2014
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© Jonathan Allen, 2014
Your turn - what do you think of the ideas in this drash ?Like most print and online magazines, we reserve the right to edit or publish only those comments we feel are edifying in tone and content.