Being in Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles/Sukkot is a profound experience for us; and being who and how I am, I cannot resist a little teaching.
Upon leaving the synagogue after the concluding song, Ne'ilah, of Yom Kippur to walk home, one may well begin to hear the sounds of sukkah building as the time for mourning and repentance gives way to the time of joyful celebration of the Almighty's abundant provision. The month of Elul gives opportunity, and one is strongly encouraged to take it, to examine one's life in preparation for Yom Teruach, or the Feast of Trumpets, also known as Rosh HaShana, the Head of the New Year.
The ten Days of Awe, from Trumpets to Yom Kippur, are set aside for us to become aware of Almighty God, the Sovereign LORD God of Israel, through reflection, meditation and prayer; so we arrive at the fasts of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, ready to stand before the Almighty and experience His Holiness. (I briefly wrote about this in the previous blog.)
Leviticus 16 describes the Day of Atonement as a day on which sacrifice is made by the High Priest, both for himself and for the people, before he makes his annual entry into the Holy of Holies in the Temple where the Shekinah Presence resides. Those whose atonement is firmly established, enter into the Holiness of God's Presence. God's people are called to be a Holy nation of priests who will take the LIGHT of the PRESENCE to all nations.
From here we have four days to prepare the sukkah for hospitality and to celebrate the abundant provision of harvest; to celebrate our PROVIDER, Yahweh Yireh. Through Moshe, He led His people through the desert and provided them with food, health and strength for the journey.
Moses, in Deuteronomy 16, instructs the people regarding this Feast:
"Celebrate the Festival of Tabernacles for seven days after you have gathered the produce of your threshing floor and your winepress. Be joyful at your festival—you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levites, the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns. For seven days celebrate the festival to the Lord your God at the place the Lord will choose. For the Lord your God will bless you in all your harvest and in all the work of your hands, and your joy will be complete."
Finally it is time for JOY!
In fact, joy is commanded, "Be joyful at your festival...".
It has been pointed out to us that, although Sukkot commemorates and celebrates the desert Provision, and is related to the Passover/Pesach in Egypt, the Sovereign LORD chose to place it here, after Yom Kippur/Atonement. Why?
Perhaps this story from Nehemiah gives us a clue.
After Nehemiah finished rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem in the latter days of the month of Elul, and they approached the High Holy Days, Nehemiah and Ezra gather the people to hear the Law of Moses read to them. This is the first time since the return from exile that they have been secure enough to bring out the Torah and read it in public. The people weep to hear the words of their God read aloud to them.
Addressing the weeping people:
"Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher of the Law, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, 'This day is holy to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.' For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law. Nehemiah said, 'Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.'"
Following this reading, Ezra and Nehemiah prepare everyone for the Feast of Tabernacles, the time of JOY.
Much as we may weep and prostrate ourselves before the Sovereign LORD as we hear and absorb His word, His will for us is to live in JOY, in fact, as Nehemiah and Ezra tell us, "the joy of the LORD is your [our] strength", and since the Joy belongs to our God, it cannot but be STRENGTH in us.
So these last few days we have observed the joyful preparations of the sukkah, the meticulous searching for just the right etrog, and the perfect palm branch, myrtle and willow for the lulav, the bundle of these three, that is waved in a ritual of joy every day of Sukkot.