“You shall keep the Feast of Booths seven days, when you have gathered in the produce from your threshing floor and your winepress. You shall rejoice in your feast, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant, the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow who are within your towns.” (Deuteronomy 16:13-14)
When was the last time that you felt joy? True unadulterated, uninhibited joy? Sadly, we don’t get to feel that way all that often in life. In our day to day lives we are often to busy with work, family and our various other responsibilities to remember that there is so much to be thankful for, so much to be joyous about. So much of God’s bounty and goodness is bestowed upon us and we should be thankful for it. When the feeling does come around however we should grab hold of it, cherish it and extend it as long as possible.
The Feast of Tabernacles holiday, or Sukkot as it is called in Hebrew, is a celebration of God’s goodness, bounty, love for his people and for all mankind. It is the perfect time to celebrate the joys of this world, and indeed that is what the Bible instructs us to do no less than three separate times (Leviticus 23:40; Deuteronomy 16:14; Deuteronomy 16:15).
Sukkot, more so than any other holiday, is the time to express and feel our joy. To take time out and really nestle in the joys of life that are all around us. In Israel this has become an art with time off work. Most families tour, hike, hit the beaches, spend time with loved ones and go on trips that have been long in the making but were not convenient at other times.
This is why so many people from all over the world come to Israel in general and Jerusalem specifically during the holiday of Sukkot. The recent Israel365 tour, which took place over Sukkot, got to experience this firsthand.
Whether it was participating in a cooperative Hallel (prayer services consisting of songs of praise to the lord, regularly said on festive days in the Jewish calendar) service at the Center for Jewish and Christian Understanding and Cooperation (CJCUC) in Efrat, or marching in the Jerusalem Parade of Nations, participating in joyous ceremonies and occasions became almost second nature for the participants.
“I cannot believe how many people came out to see the parade let alone participate in it,” said one of the tour participants. “All these people from all over the world coming to Jerusalem to show their support and pride in the city and standing with Israel is breathtaking,” she said.
Sukkot is a commemoration of God’s protection of the Israelites in the desert who lived in booths during their wanderings for 40 years, and were protected by God throughout. In commemoration of God’s divine protection, even today some 3,500 years later, Jews all around the world leave their homes and live in booths that they build for the week long festival.
The idea of living in a booth, or tabernacle, is inherent with symbolic meaning. It is the existence without boundaries, without doors or sturdy walls separating one from another. It is a festival during which having guests, even random strangers walk into one’s booth, is not only accepted but highly encouraged. We invite others in to dine with us, trusting in God that he will provide and protect us as he once did.
The Sukkot holiday is filled with national as well as individual ones. Israel as a country hosts hundreds of thousands of tourists, both Jewish and Christian, over the holiday. These pilgrims come to share in the spirituality and giving atmosphere of the festival. Those who were part of the Israel365 tour came from all over the world to come and experience firsthand the joys of the holiday together with people from the land.
“The prayer service this morning was inspiring and very moving,” said John, a participant in the tour, referencing the CJCUC service on Tuesday. “I was surprised at the amount of people who came. Hopefully everyone will take the messages shared here, and spread it around when they get back wherever they are going and many good things will come of the uplifting experience we all shared together.”
The service was lead by Rabbis and Pastors from Israel and abroad. One of the leaders was a Palestinian Christian Pastor who came to share in the event as well.
“All these significant leaders in one place coming together for a common goal, the goal of spreading a message of coexistence and being able to worship together, is the most inspiring thing,” said another participant. “The joy and song that we all shared at this morning’s event gave us a lot to think about,” he said.
The tour continued through the holiday and wraps up at the end of the week. In addition to sharing in prayer services the group participated in the Jerusalem March of Nations together with the LIBI Fund and the IDF Jerusalem Brigade on Tuesday, before heading to meet with Ultra-Orthodox Jews to learn about how they live, and then having learning sessions about the biblically ordained Sabbatical year which Israel is currently observing.