Yehuda Bachana: Sukkot Reveals My Place in the Community [2020]

Read the transcript below, or watch a video of the teaching by Yehuda Bachana.

This week we celebrate Sukkot and focus on the Exodus from Egypt. We also learn about the commandments concerning Sukkot, the importance of teaching and educating our children, and the values of the “lulav” (the four species).

This Shabbat the Torah reading will be different. Not the weekly Torah portion, but rather the reading is designated especially to Sukkot: Leviticus 22:26-23:44. The Haftarah (the reading from the prophets) is Zechariah 14:1-21. For the New Testament, we suggest reading John 7:1-44.

What is a Sukkah and what is its purpose?

“Live in temporary shelters for seven days: All native-born Israelites are to live in such shelters so your descendants will know that I had the Israelites live in temporary shelters when I brought them out of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” – Leviticus 23:42,43

When the People of Israel went out of Egypt and wandered the desert, they lived in “Sukkot”, a type of tent, or booth. Our dwelling in the Sukkah emphasizes how the people of Israel dwelled in Sukkot then, and it reminds us of the Exodus from Egypt.

The Exodus is a biblical cornerstone, but it also has been in the Jewish history and culture since its very beginning. God takes a group of slaves through the Red Sea and takes them out to be a free nation. We can point at that place and time, that it was exactly at this point in history that God made “The People of Israel”.

Who is God? God is “the God of Israel”! He freed us from slavery and granted us freedom! Our whole nation belongs to Him, and we carry God's identity as He is “the God of Israel”.

The Ten Commandments are the foundation of the Torah, and open with the following phrase:

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.” – Exodus 20:2,3

The God who created the entire world, the universe and mankind, chooses to represent Himself as the God who took Israel out of Egypt. Through which He Himself created “the People of Israel”.

This term enables us to separate God from other gods. There are those that claim that the term “god” is actually such a universal code name, that it belongs to everyone and all of mankind serves god. There are some that call Him different names but that in the end we all serve the same entity (this is not true).

So, how do we separate between God and other gods?

We can do so with this simple question:

Did this or another god take Israel out of Egypt? Gave Israel the promised land?

If the answer is “no”, it means that that idol isn't God. So, Who is God?

God is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of the Bible who took Israel out of Egypt. He is the “Mighty One of Jacob” (Genesis 49:24), the “Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 30:15), besides whom there is no other God.

Therefore, most of the Biblical feasts, including Shabbat, commemorate the Exodus from Egypt. The Exodus isn't only the deliverance from the slavery we endured in Egypt, but He set us free eternally. He led us to the promised land, according to the same promise that He made to our forefather Abraham.

The Exodus from Egypt is a prototype for the ultimate story of redemption, which is the story of our salvation through Yeshua the Messiah. Yeshua took us out of slavery and brought us eternal freedom.

This point is the most essential and crucial for our children and for ourselves: God commands us and expects us to remember the Exodus from Egypt forever and ever. Here we are as the very distant descendants of Abraham and we still remember.

This generation, too, must pass on the story of salvation to our children and the children of our children. Our national story of redemption (the Exodus from Egypt) and the story of the salvation of the entire world:

“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.” – John 3:16,17

The story of the world's salvation is interwoven with the story of our personal salvation, thanks to Yeshua the Messiah. The main reason for building the Sukkah can be seen in the following phrase:

“…so your descendants will know that I had the Israelites live in temporary shelters when I brought them out of Egypt.” – Leviticus 23:43b

Our Sukkah serves the purpose to teach the next generations, to ensure our continuation and our future.

Truly, the essence of most of the biblical feasts is to teach our children our history and to teach and pass on our culture and the Torah between generations.

Every year again children enjoy building and decorating the Sukkah with their parents and to them it's very important to have “the most beautiful and inviting Sukkah”.

With that being said, Sukkot allows families to have a nice experience of going outside and enjoying a nice family picnic. More importantly, however, when we dwell in our Sukkah for a week, we enable ourselves the feeling of living in a temporary home, and thus experiencing a little taste of the Exodus.

This is a lively way to connect our family and invest in the education of our children. It also is a good way to pass on the generational heritage (as God commanded us).

Another commandment for Sukkot is the usage of the “lulav”, also known as the four species, namely: a palm branch, three branches of myrtle, two willow branches and an etrog (also known as a “citron”) (Leviticus 23:40).

Traditionally, the Jewish world is divided into four categories. Not just saints and evil people, not only good or bad. Every one of the four species symbolize the characteristics of taste or smell, and together they symbolize the whole of mankind.

  1. Etrog or “citron”: taste and a good smell.
  2. Lulav: taste (from its fruit, the date), but no smell .
  3. Myrtle: smell, but no taste.
  4. Willow: no taste and no smell .

This division symbolizes different types of people:

  1. Smell and taste: these are people that have both faith and good deeds.
  2. Taste without smell: people who have faith, but have no good deeds.
  3. Smell without taste: those that do good deeds, are good people, but don't observe the Torah, and have no faith.
  4. No taste and no smell: people without faith, and without good deeds.

As we hold the lulav, we unite the four species closely together, as a symbol of unity, teaching our kids that every individual completes the other, we cannot say “God only wants the etrog”, meaning, only people with faith and good deeds. We teach our children that the etrog isn't enough to fulfil the commandment.

We also need the myrtle and palm branches. God also wants the people who have good intentions and goodwill, who have faith or a positive life style that influence their surroundings.

In order to complete the commandment, we add the willow: the minority without strong faith and without clear actions. We unite them closely, too, as they complete us, and, all of us together make up a united group (a people, a congregation, a group, a family).

This unity enables us all to have taste and smell. The united group finds favor in the eyes of the Lord. And, likewise, collectively we fulfill the commandment of the four species.

A similar idea can be found at Pesach (Passover), where we speak of the four sons that are mentioned in the Torah: one wise, one evil, one simple, and one that doesn't know how to ask.

When describing them as characters we could say there are four characteristics, namely: a good character, a bad character, and two mediocre characters.

This idea clashes with the Western/Greek worldview that teaches that there are just two types, namely: good and evil. I would like to further examine the Parable of the Sower (Mathew 13) according to the idea of the four sons and four species. The parable of Yeshua speaks of four types of people, as there are four types of ground,

“…until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you will return.” – Genesis 3:19b

As believers we got used to the thought that there are two sides only: “good or evil”, “black or white”. Due to this way of thinking, we got used to the idea that there are three types of “bad ground” or at least “not good”, and only one good type of soil that gives a lot of fruit.

Netivyah | Sukkot | A man scatters seeds; representing the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13) | Etching by C. Murer c. 1600-1614
A man scatters seeds; representing the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13) | Etching by C. Murer c. 1600-1614

The four sons that we speak about at Pesach, the four species that we speak of at Sukkot, and the parable of Yeshua speak about the most of us. They all picture that most people reside somewhere in the middle.

When we read the parable of Yeshua, we see that there is a good type of soil that brings forth a lot of fruit. We are likewise when we enter the congregation, the house of the Lord: we all pray, we all sing, and all worship. On shabbat (or when we meet), we are the good soil…

But what happens on the other days of the week? What about our everyday life?

At the end of the line we are all in the gray, like in the parable of Yeshua. We all choke from worries of rent, payments, work, educating our children, family problems, disagreements and anger, tiredness, despair, depression and heartbreak. Who of us can testify that s/he is the “good ground” that bears hundreds of good and useful fruit?

We have to understand that we are part of a group, part of a community. The congregation (like that of Yeshua) completes the areas that I lack at.

One of the expressions of unity at the congregation is mutual aid, praying for one another, strengthening each other. We all fall (we get overwhelmed or are thirsty for the living water).

As a congregation we must help each other get back to our feet. Which is exactly the importance of a congregation in the daily life of a believer. In any congregation, when looking to our left or right, we see the four species, those that believe more and those that believe a bit less. We see the people that we love more and those that we love a bit less, but together we are one congregation.

Yeshua has one body that is made up of all of us together. United into a very colorful, human mosaic.

Shabbat shalom and have a Happy Holiday!

Joseph Shulam: The Feast of Sukkoth- Then-and Forever[2023]

This Shabbat is the first day of the feast of Tabernacles, Sukkoth in Hebrew. The feast of Sukkoth is one of the three feasts of pilgrimage to Jerusalem. The first one in the early spring is Passover, and the second is Pentecost, and the third is Sukkoth. What makes these three feasts special is that they are all three celebrating major historical events and also major agricultural, seasonal events.

Passover is the first one and it is a celebration of the exodus from Egypt, and the beginning of the wheat harvest in the Middle East. The second holiday, Pentecost, is the only Biblical holiday that doesn’t have a date. The Passover has a date and it is to be celebrated on the 14th day of the month of Nissan. The Biblical Hebrew New Year, the first month, is Nissan. On the 14th day, that is the day that the children of Israel got out of Egyptian slavery and began their journey to the land of Canaan, the land God gave to Abraham and his decedents as an everlasting inheritance.

The second holiday without a date is celebrated 50 days after the Passover. It is Shavuot or Pentecost. This is why the Torah commands us to count these 50 days of the wheat harvest. It is also the day of the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. This is why in European languages the holiday is called Pentecost, which in Greek means 50 days.

The third holiday is called, in Hebrew, Sukkoth, and it means in English, Tabernacles. The word Sukkoth in Hebrew means temporary or loosely made dwellings, open to the elements of the weather. So, now this Shabbat, on September 29, 2023, all of Israel will celebrate the feast of Sukkoth. The command of the Torah is that all of Israel will dwell in these shabby temporary dwellings made of tiki-taki, cloth, and branches of trees for a roof, to remind us all of the 40 years of wondering in the Sinai desert before arriving in the land of promise.

The reading for this Shabbat is the reading for Sukkoth: From the Torah the reading is Leviticus 22:26-23:44. From the Prophets, the Haftarah is from Zechariah 14:1-21, and from The Gospels we will read from Luke 2:1-20.

The question always arises when I speak to Christians, about the date of the birth of Yeshua in Bethlehem. The account in Luke 2 of Joseph and Mary, his wife, coming to Bethlehem for the census ordered by Quirinius, the Roman governor of Syria, and the narrative of Luke’s Gospel, might indicate that the season was the autumn at the time of the feast of Sukkoth, Tabernacles. We do know for sure that Yeshua and His apostles did come to Jerusalem for the Feast of Sukkoth, as it is recorded in the Gospel of John: “After these things Jesus walked in Galilee; for He did not want to walk in Judea, because the Jews sought to kill Him. “Now the Jews’ Feast of Tabernacles was at hand.

His brothers therefore said to Him, “Depart from here and go into Judea, that Your disciples also may see the works that You are doing.” (John 7.1-3 New King James Version). Any time in Jewish literature that you find the word “THE FEAST” – in Hebrew החג - - HaHag, “The Feast”, it is always a reference to the feast of Sukkoth.

Sukkoth is one of the major biblical feasts and it has every possible indication for happiness, celebration of wealth of food and prosperity, and also of the beginning of the rainy season, and the end of wheat, and fruit and olive harvest. The barns are full, and the new wine is plentiful, and it is a time of celebration of wealth on the one hand, and you have to live in a shabby hut made from temporary materials.

Sukkoth in the Torah is also a very special holiday for the gentiles. God commanded Israel, on Sukkoth, to offer 70 bulls, each bull for a specific nation. The Biblical concept of nations is based on the number of the children of Israel that went down to Egypt in the days of Joseph; 70 children of Israel went down and therefore the Bible has 70 distinct nations.[1]

This is also a particular reason why we, like all the synagogues in the world, will read the last chapter of the prophet Zechariah, chapter 14. Because, upon the return of the Son of David to Jerusalem, every nation will have to send a delegation to the feast of Sukkoth, to come to Jerusalem and worship the God of Israel, the Creator of the World, the Father of all mankind, and bring their offering to dedicate it in the name of their nations, to the God of created the nations.

The God who divided the people of the world after the attempt of humanity to dethrone the Father of all, in order to be independent and without oversight and control by the God who created them.

For this reason, you have in Zechariah 14 the nations coming to Jerusalem to worship the God of Israel. The whole concept is based on Sukkoth being a feast that transcends the nationality of people and stresses the unity of humanity with God and with Israel and Jerusalem.

Amos, the prophet who didn’t really want to be a prophet, but just wanted to be a farmer, a cow-boy… brings this description of the joy and prosperity of the time of our redemption:

““On that day I will raise up The Tabernacle of David, which has fallen down, and repair its damages; I will raise up its ruins, and rebuild it as in the days of old;
That they may possess the remnant of Edom, and all the Gentiles who are called by My name,” says the LORD who does this thing. “Behold, the days are coming,” says the LORD, “When the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes, him who sows seed; the mountains shall drip with sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it. I will bring back the captives of My people Israel; they shall build the waste cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink wine from them; they shall also make gardens and eat fruit from them. I will plant them in their land, and no longer shall they be pulled up from the land I have given them,” Says the LORD your God.” (Amos 9.11-15 New King James Version)

Please note dear brothers and sisters, that it is this prophecy of Amos that Jacob (James) brings into the discussion with the other apostles and elders and leaders of the church in Jerusalem in Acts chapter 15, in order to allow the gentiles to come into the fellowship and community of the disciples of Yeshua without conversion to Judaism and without circumcision.

This convincing argument of Jacob (James) the brother of Yeshua, was strong and in fact did the job and kept our gentile brothers from being circumcised and only ordered them to do the very minimum that was commanded on all people in the world after the flood of Noah.

The commands were simple:

1) stay away from idolatry or anything that looks or hints or smells like idolatry.

2) stay away from sexual immorality, the Greek word is PORNEA (from this word comes the English word pornography.)

3) Stay away from eating meat that is not properly slaughtered, i.e., killed in a way that the heart keeps pumping the blood out from the major artery in the neck of the animal. In the United States, all meat that has the USDA label falls in this category, and Jews and Muslims can eat it.

4) Our Gentile brothers have to abstain from shedding blood, from killing animals or humans without fully justified legal reasons. Paul said that in Romans 13, that the government does not hold the sword in vain and in my opinion, this is a statement that gives the government the right for capital punishment.

Back to our reading of the Haftarah and the vision for the future of the world that Zechariah the prophet gives us!

1) Zechariah sees Jerusalem as the center of peace between the nations and the end of idolatry, with a full acknowledgment of the God of Israel being the FATHER of all!

2) The centrality of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and the center of unity and worship of the God of Israel for all the peoples of the world.

3) The nations that will not comply with God’s rules and ignore the need to send a delegation to Jerusalem for the Feast of Sukkoth will be sanctioned to have a year of drought without rain! You can imagine some of those nations that have plenty of rain and water and a land that is green and rich forested and farming lands. Without rain for these rebellious countries and nations what will be their outcome?

For me this vision seems far away and distant to the point of impossible, but I have lived long enough and have seen in my own life and the life of my family, more than once, the impossible become possible, the improbable become reality. I believe in the words of the Biblical prophets and every detail of their predictions because I am living these words every day when I open the shutter of my living-room window, and see the city of Jerusalem being built and expanding and growing and absorbing Jews returning home from over 103 different nations.

I see the fulfillment of God’s promises to the prophets of Israel as they are recorded in the text of the Hebrew Bible written and spoken in the streets of Jerusalem and on top of the hills of Galilee thousands of years ago.

I and my generation in Israel, have seen the babies that were born in Netivyah, like Yuda and Daniel and David and Tamar, and Emanuel Levi who is the first boy born in Netivyah who excelled as a pilot in the Israeli Air Force and died in action as one of Israel’s ace top-gun pilots, growing up and finishing high school, all in the Hebrew language, going to the I.D.F., “Israeli Defense Forces”.

I see the children of families that were cave dwellers in the Berber Mountains in Morocco becoming professors and doctors with international acclaim.

Yes, dear brothers and sisters, the country and nation of Israel is the only nation that I see that takes the words of the Torah and the Prophets seriously and believes that every one of these promises will be fulfilled. We don’t know how, and we don’t know when, but we do know that God has been faithful to keep his promises as the song says:

Trust and Obey
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Genesis 5:24

By: John H. Sammis
Tune: Trust and Obey

When we walk with the Lord
In the light of his Word
What a glory he sheds on our way!
Let us do His good will;
He abides with us still,
And with all who will trust and obey.
Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus, But to trust and obey.

Not a shadow can rise,
Not a cloud in the skies,
But His smile quickly drives it away;
Not a doubt or a fear,
Not a sigh nor a tear,
Can abide while we trust and obey.
Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus, But to trust and obey.

Not a burden we bear,
Not a sorrow we share,
But our toil He doth richly repay;
Not a grief or a loss,
Not a frown or a cross,
But is blest if we trust and obey.
Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus, But to trust and obey.

But we never can prove
The delights of His love
Until all on the altar we lay;
For the favor He shows
And the joy He bestows
Are for them who will trust and obey.
Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus, But to trust and obey.

Then in fellowship sweet
We will sit at His feet
Or we’ll walk by His side in the way;
What He says we will do,
Where He sends we will go;
Never fear, only trust and obey.
Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus, But to trust and obey!