This week it happens: The family is in temporary housing, the floor is dirty and guests are coming over! How will the family react? Well, it is the normal turn of events, for this week is Sukkot the Jewish holiday celebrating the autumn ingathering of fruits while remembering the historic journey of their ancestors through the wilderness of Sinai.
During the 3,500 year old festival called Sukkot or the Feast of Tabernacles many Jewish families live, or at least eat meals in crudely built shelters near their homes. The requirements are they need to be made out of natural materials and the stars should be seen through the roof. Sometimes fruit is attached to the ceiling. Furnishings can be pillows or chairs. The shelter is constructed to remember the Hebrew people lived in crude shelters for forty years as they traveled through the wilderness after being freed from slavery in Egypt.
Moses wrote, “On the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the produce of the land, you shall celebrate the feast of the Lord seven days. … You shall take on the first day the fruit of splendid trees, branches of palm trees and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God … You shall dwell in booths for seven days.” (Leviticus 23)
While Jewish families live in the shelters they remember the time their ancestors traveled in the wilderness as aliens, people without a land. This nation was guided by God on their travels which lasted forty years. During the days of their travels they were provided with food (Manna), their clothing never wore out, and they were cared for in every way by God. They also received the commandments and built the Tabernacle.
During this event which is the model for our Thanksgiving holiday the Jewish people celebrate God’s goodness with thanksgiving for the Lord’s provision of food in the wilderness (manna) and for the fall harvest (especially fruit). They make bundles called the four species consisting of a palm leaf, myrtle branches, willow branches, and a citron (a type of fruit). The bundle is waved signaling obedience to the commandments, thanksgiving, and in a sense unity of the people with God and others.
In modern times new ideas were introduced such as a concept from the zohar called the Ushpizin Guests. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, and King David visit families through in the Sukkot and have the opportunity to tell their story. Each Ushpizin (guest) also shares a spiritual attribute to encourage people and share an idea to follow in life.
For children the Feast of Tabernacles can be a festival of great fun. Imagine living in tents near home for seven days. You can go inside if it rains, but otherwise the family lives in this shelter in the cool fall weather for seven days. Great recipes can be found on many websites which can be eaten in the shelter. Hanging fruit from the shelter adds the sense of joy and thanksgiving, the visits of the guests adds mystery. The telling of stories draw the children in so they understand the heritage of the Hebrew people and their faith.
Sukkot occurs on the 15th day of the Jewish month of Tishri, which occurs September 27- October 4 this year, 2015. Sukkot services can be found at any Jewish place of worship including these locations in Charlotte, NC and surrounding communities: Temple Israel, Temple Beth El, Congregation HaTorah; Havurat Tikvah, Temple Kol Tikvah, Congregation Emmanuel, Hope of Israel, and Beit Shofarot, check their websites for more information.