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Vayikra/Leviticus 23:43 You shall dwell in succahs seven days; every native in Israel shall dwell in succahs.
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This is one of only eleven verses in the whole of the Hebrew Bible that start and end with the same word, in this case, , "in the succahs". Even more unusually, the second and penultimate words are both forms of the same verb, , to sit or dwell. From start to end, this verse is all about living in the succah! At the same time, this is one of the better known verses in the Bible, part of the instructions for the great feast of Sukkot, the harvest festival of the Jewish and agricultural year, so well loved that it is often referred to simply as "the feast"! Yet the verse and the way of celebrating the feast offer us a challenge that we often miss in these days.
The succah - booth or tabernacle - is a temporary dwelling or hut; it is normally erected for animals or farm workers (see, for example B'resheet 33:17 and Isaiah 1:8). But RabbiHirsch points out that the text does not say , but , not succot in general, but in the succah, not any succah, but the prescribed ones, one that has been built on purpose for the festival. The succah has to bear the character of being temporary, casual, not permanent or solid; it may not have four walls, only two or three and its roof must be thin enough to see the stars through it at night, while keeping off most but not all of the rain. "It has a symbolic nature," Hirsch explains, "during all seven days you are to make the sukkah your real permanent home and your house just for occasional use." The Rashbam agrees, insisting that "Even those who own houses must nevertheless live in booths during the festival." Even WiFi reaches to the succah.
The sages of the Talmud teach from this verse, "All the seven days, one should make the succah, his permanent abode and his house his temporary abode. In what manner? If he had beautiful vessels, he should bring them up into the succah, beautiful divans, he should bring them up into the succah; he should eat and drink and pass his leisure in the succah" (b. Succah 28b). Hirsch again: "Generally, it is only homeless strangers who live in 'temporary huts', but here it is emphasised that everyone, even those who have full rights of domicile, the full native-born citizens are to dwell in succahs. These dwellings should not give the impression that it is necessity, not lack of room or home that has driven them to flee to the protection of such a leafy root. Hence the succah may not be uncomfortable, only to be endured with discomfort."
The noun comes from the geminate root which has a range of meanings: to cover, conceal or protect; to defend, shield or hedge (Davidson). A , then, may be a booth, a tent or a tabernacle, made of boughs and branches, roofed with harvest leftovers and waste. With a slight change of vowels, the word becomes , a shrine, so that theBaal HaTurim can say that "for the seven days during which Israel dwells in succot, they will merit the seven canopies listed by the prophet: 'the L-RD will create over the whole shrine and meeting place of Mount Zion cloud by day and smoke with a glow of flaming fire by night. Indeed, over all the glory shall hang a canopy, which shall serve as a , a pavilion for shade from heat by day and as a shelter for protection against drenching rain' (Isaiah 4:4-6, JPS)".
Lastly, from the text, the word is a masculine noun, meaning a native tree grown in its own soil (see for example, "powerful, well-rooted like a robust native tree" (Psalm 37:35, JPS)), or a native, one born in the land. The sukkah is made of natural materials from the land and we take the the symbols and fruits of the land to wave and rejoice beforeHaShem: "On the first day you shall take the product of hadar trees, branches of palm trees, boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the L-RD your G-d seven days" (Vayikra 23:40, JPS). Those who are born in the Land or who have committed their lives to HaShem and His Land, those who are rooted there, celebrate the feast of the harvest by bringing the fruits of the Land to the L-rd and living among its products and produce. The feast of Succot is very natural and connected to the earth and creation. The period of the feast is symbolic too: for seven days, the length of creation.
What story are we trying to tell? Are we just earth-loving tree-huggers or is there a deeper narrative here? Are we telling the story of current blessings or a past of redemption and provision? Do we live in the modern world or do we live in a heritage that goes back thousands of years to when G-d brought our people out of slavery in Egypt "by a mighty hand, by an outstretched arm and awesome power" (D'varim 26:9, JPS), fed us and kept us through our wanderings in the wilderness so that "the clothes upon you did not wear out, nor did your feet swell these forty years" (8:4, JPS) and then brought us to a land "a land flowing with milk and honey" (6:3, JPS) as He "swore to our fathers" (26:3, JPS), and has kept us and sustained us until this day. Walter Brueggemann points out that, "it is a significant and telling fact that the more we want to present a religion that accommodates the epistemology of the dominant regime, the more we are pressed to flee the Torah to other parts of the canon."1 In other words, the more we try to present the story of G-d in the modern world, the more we find ourselves compromising on the foundation of our faith. We tell the stories of Yeshua and the G-d of love, without speaking of G-d the Creator of heaven and earth and the Judge of all mankind.
Brueggemann continues, "The question was always alive in Israel: Shall we risk these stories? Shall we take our stand on them? If we do, we must do so with the knowledge that not only the substance, but our modes of knowing are suspect and troublesome in the world." If we are to challenge the false gods of our society, their so-called truths and ways of knowing and understanding - read: evolution, reason, philosophy - then we get branded as cranks or idiots. Speaking of creation at all, whether the riskier "young earth, literal six-day creation" or the "old earth, intelligent design, evolutionary creation" is anathema to a society that prefers not to know G-d and denies His existence if possible and certainly if it would involve any change in values and lifestyle!
Lest we should think that this was only a problem for those in the past and surely cannot be so in today's super-tolerant post-modern pick'n'mix smorgasbord society, Brueggemann makes it clear that, "the question continues to be problematic for educators: Can we risk these stories? The answer is known only when we decide if we want to subvert the imperial consciousness and offer a genuine alternative to the dominant forms of power, value and knowledge." No-one is suggesting that we suspend our powers of reason and intelligence, that we stop talking rationally and reasonably, or become raving fundamentalists. We are all educators, whether by profession or simply as believers and disciples, but when we tell the stories that challenge the prevailing post-enlightenment scientific rational by which the majority of our world operates and governs their behaviour, we cause trauma and offence. It is easier to think us deranged that to think the unthinkable thought that the world and its values might be wrong.
We must tell the story of Yeshua's cross and resurrection - for that is the crux of the gospel - the way for all humanity to be reconciled with G-d if they will, but we must also tell the stories of creation and the fall, of the call of Avraham and the patriarchs, of the Exodus from Egypt and the giving of the Torah, and of Israel in the Land and exile from it, or we rob the story of Yeshua of its context, background and meaning. In the same way, we must tell the story of Yeshua's return and the coming judgement, otherwise there will be no expectation and no reason to accept G-d's offer. And then we must tell the story of the early church and the apostolic letters so that everyone is aware of the costs and the benefits of signing up to the kingdom of G-d. We must share the whole story so that G-d is seen to be consistent and faithful from start to finish and so that the story of this world is exposed for the tawdry lies and foolishness that it is.
This is why we build a succah and live in it for seven days: to practically demonstrate our commitment to and dependence on the G-d who is from eternity past to eternity present and who is also right here and now. And by so doing, we poke the world in the eye and challenge its values and assumptions to the very core. The question we need to ask ourselves today (and every day) is: are we subject to the dominant society around us or are we prepared to take a risk on G-d being right after all? We are not to be foolish and bring our G-d into disrepute by unreasoned and illogical behaviour and speech - heaven knows, there is enough of that about already - but we are called to be consistently, passionately and compassionately different.
1. - Walter Brueggemann, The Creative Word: Canon as a Model for Biblical Education, 2nd edition, Fortress Press 2015, page 39
Further Study: Nehemiah 8:14-17; 1 Corinthians 1:26-31
Have you ever taken a risk for G-d: spoken out for Him or challenged the
received wisdom of modern society? Have you ever demonstrated your faith and
commitment to the kingdom of G-d in a practical and visible way? Put in a
call to the Master Strategist today and see what options are available!
© Jonathan Allen, 2016
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© Jonathan Allen, 2016
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.