What Is The Feast Of Tabernacles Or Sukkot?

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Published by Kenneth Garcia

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Co-Founder of Biblekeeper, Author & Theologian

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A family built a hut in their backyard in a suburban area of the country. They assembled the temporary dwelling using wooden planks, palm fronds, and decorative materials. The family painted paper chains and hung gourds, creating a charming sukkah.

On the holiday, they invited neighbors and friends to share a meal in the Sukkah, symbolizing the tradition of welcoming guests. They shared stories of their ancestors’ desert journey, emphasizing reflection and gratitude. As night fell, the family members lit candles and sang songs that united in a heartfelt celebration of faith and love.

The Feast of Tabernacles served as a vibrant tradition, evoking the lasting strength of familial ties and offering a chance to rekindle connections with their heritage in the contemporary era. The divine bestowed this benevolence upon our forebears, and it continues to signal the resplendent arrival of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

What Is The Feast Of Tabernacles?

Jewish and some Christian congregations observe Sukkot, the Hebrew Feast of Tabernacles, as a crucial biblical festival. As one of Judaism’s three major pilgrimage festivities, alongside Passover (Pesach) and Shavuot (Pentecost), Sukkot spans seven days. It occurs during autumn in either September or October, inaugurating on the 15th day of the Jewish Tishrei month.

Believers unify in a shared tradition of remembrance and gratitude, marking this celebration with its historical and spiritual significance.

The Feast of Tabernacles holds historical and agricultural value. It commemorates the Israelites’ 40-year desert sojourn after the exodus from Egypt[1], highlighting their reliance on temporary shelters called sukkot. Agriculturally, Sukkot marks the harvest season, especially the final harvest, when Jews gather their crops and celebrate God’s abundant blessings.

What Does The Bible Say About The Feast Of Tabernacles?

Then the survivors from all the nations that have attacked Jerusalem will go up year after year to worship the King, the Lord Almighty, and to celebrate the Festival of Tabernacles.

— Zechariah 14:16

The inaugural reference to the Feast of Tabernacles in the biblical account can be traced to the divine revelation given to Moses atop Mount Sinai. In the book of Exodus (23:16), the Almighty, in His wisdom, imparts instructions to the Children of Israel through their chosen prophet, directing them to partake in a unique festival denoted as a period of “harvest” or “ingathering.”

Later, in the book of Leviticus (23), this festivity’s specific timing and season are elucidated, decreeing that it must unfold in the seventh month, coinciding with the autumnal equinox as the year approaches its conclusion.

During the venerable observance of the Festival of Tabernacles in antiquity, a priest vested in holy regalia embarked on a sacred pilgrimage to the hallowed Pool of Siloam, cradling a resplendent vessel crafted from pure gold. At this holy spring, he drew forth the crystalline waters, which he bore back to the sacred precincts of the Temple.

There, with great exuberance and jubilation resonating through the assembled crowds, the priest poured the consecrated waters into one of the gleaming silver receptacles poised near the sacred altar.

However, this event is more than just a celebration of agriculture; it deeply acknowledges the continuous protection and care that the Almighty provides for His chosen people.

It encapsulates the miraculous liberation of the Israelites from the clutches of Egyptian subjugation and the benevolent guidance and sustenance that sustained them throughout their forty-year odyssey in the wilderness. Its import extends beyond the mere enjoyment of a bountiful harvest.

Moreover, this sacred celebration not only harks back to the blessings of yore but also beckons forth the blessings yet to be bestowed. The Feast of Tabernacles, in its many aspects, serves as a symbolic precursor, signaling the impending appearance of the Messiah, the Redeemer, and the Cleanser of His people. It is an intricate allegory for the eagerly anticipated coming of the anointed one.

When Is The Feast Of Tabernacles?

The Lord said to Moses, Say to the Israelites: On the fifteenth day of the seventh month, the Lord’s Festival of Tabernacles begins, and it lasts for seven days.

— Leviticus 23:33–34

The celebration commences on the 15th day of the seventh month, falling on a Sunday, and is designated as a holy convocation, a day when common labor is forbidden. This festive period spans seven days, during which the community presents regular offerings (as detailed in Numbers 29:13–16) and resides in tabernacles or tents.

On the eighth day, called the “Great Day,” another holy convocation is proclaimed, where the people offer a final offering and observe a solemn rest (as outlined in Numbers 29:35–38).

Across the globe, various cultures have established dedicated times for celebrating abundance and expressing gratitude. In North America, both American and Canadian Thanksgiving festivities harmonize the harvest season with the recognition of blessings.

Taiwan and China commemorate the Mid-Autumn Festival, Germany observes Erntedankfest, and India celebrates Pongal, among others. Ancient Israel, too, partook in such celebrations, albeit with their own unique reasons to be thankful.

jewish man eating a fruit during sukkot

How Is The Feast Of Tabernacles Celebrated?

1. Building A Sukkah

One of the central customs of Sukkot is the construction of a temporary outdoor dwelling called a sukkah. These structures are typically made of natural materials like branches, leaves, and bamboo. The Sukkah is meant to be a reminder of the Israelites’ desert wanderings and is used for meals and sometimes for sleeping during the holiday.

2. Eating In The Sukkah

Throughout the holiday, it is customary to eat meals in the Sukkah. The sukkah roof should provide shade but allow those inside to see the sky through the top, fulfilling the commandment to dwell in booths.

3. The Four Species

Another vital custom involves waving the Four Species, the Lulav and Etrog. These are four plants:

  • A palm branch
  • A myrtle branch
  • A willow branch
  • Citron (a type of citrus fruit)

4. Rejoicing

Sukkot is known as the “Season of Rejoicing.” It is a time to express joy and Thanksgiving. Traditional songs, prayers, and blessings are recited, and many families and communities hold celebrations and parties during this holiday.

5. Water-Drawing Ceremony

One unique observance during Sukkot is the water-drawing ceremony (Simchat Beit Hashoevah). In this ceremony, participants draw water from a natural source (in ancient times, they drew it from the Pool of Siloam in Jerusalem) and accompany it with joyous dancing and music. The water-drawing ceremony is linked to historical temple rituals and is a central holiday feature.

6. Candle Lighting

Candles are lit each evening of Sukkot, just like on other Jewish holidays. The candle lighting is usually accompanied by reciting blessings.

7. Unique Torah Passages

Sukkot sees the synagogue resound with distinct Torah excerpts. They drew from Leviticus and the Ecclesiastes tome, also known as Kohelet.

8. Benevolence And Warm Welcome

The festival accentuates generosity’s value and extends a welcoming hand to the less fortunate. Many open the doors of their sukkah to guests, and benevolence takes center stage.

9. Supplications For Precipitation

In Jewish heritage, entreaties for rainfall are woven into Sukkot observances. Prayers were given in the autumn when nature’s quenching embrace was needed.

The way Sukkot is celebrated can vary among Jewish communities and individuals; some may emphasize certain customs more than others. Overall, Sukkot is a time of unity, gratitude, and celebration, reflecting on the harvest season and the historical and agricultural significance of the holiday.

When Does The Feast Of Tabernacles End?

Sukkot, or the Feast of Tabernacles, endures for a whole week. Following this observance, a supplementary festivity unfolds in Jewish customs known as “Shemini Atzeret” and “Simchat Torah. Sukkot initiates on the 15th day of Tishrei, maintaining its revelry for seven days.

Shemini Atzeret, which means “Eighth Day of Assembly,” immediately follows the seven days of Sukkot. It is considered a separate holiday, observed on the 22nd day of Tishrei. In the diaspora (outside of Israel), Shemini Atzeret is celebrated for two days and includes Simchat Torah.

Also called “Rejoicing of the Torah,” it is observed on the same day as Shemini Atzeret in Israel but is celebrated as a separate holiday in the diaspora. It marks the conclusion of the annual cycle of Torah readings and the beginning of a new cycle.

On Simchat Torah, Jews dance with Torah scrolls, read the final portion of Deuteronomy, and immediately begin reading the first portion of Genesis to start the new cycle. The feast concludes with an intricate water-pouring ceremony about life-giving water.

So, the Feast of Tabernacles ends with the conclusion of the seven days of Sukkot. In the diaspora, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah follow immediately, and this eight-day period of celebration concludes the holiday season.

In Israel, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah are observed on the same day and mark the end of the holiday. The specific dates for these holidays will vary from year to year based on the Hebrew calendar.

Why Is The Feast Significant?

The Feast of Tabernacles is a significant and multifaceted Jewish holiday with several layers of historical, agricultural, and spiritual significance.

1. Timing

The feast coincided with the culmination of the year’s agricultural harvest. It was a time to celebrate God’s blessings on Israel’s seven primary crops: grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, honey, wheat, and barley (Deuteronomy 8:8).

The central ceremony, which spans from Sunday to Saturday, harks back to creation week and marks it with joy and rest. This week-long expression of gratitude also preceded the rainy season, with the hope that God would renew the land and bestow another bountiful harvest in the following year.

2. Tabernacles

God delivered the Israelites from the slavery of Egypt. The tabernacles, or temporary dwellings, served as a symbolic reminder of the 40-year journey of the Israelites in the wilderness—a period during which God provided them with food, water, and protection from adversaries and natural elements.

Dwelling in these impermanent structures encouraged thanksgiving for what God had accomplished in leading them to their permanent homes in the Promised Land.

3. Sacrifices

God required the people to present valuable offerings from their agricultural yields. These offerings formed an integral part of the sincere celebration of gratitude to God over eight days.

The fact that the Jewish people eventually integrated elements such as light, water, and the singing of psalms into the festival underscores their connection between God’s past provisions and His promise of future sustenance.

Even when Israel recovered from Babylonian captivity, the theme of divine support was evident. It marked the Tabernacle’s celebration during times of changing leadership and uncertainty (Ezra 3:1–7; Nehemiah 8:13–18).

In a visionary moment, Zechariah broadened God’s vow of rainfall and blessings, extending it to those beyond the Jewish fold who converged on Jerusalem to engage in the feast (Zechariah 14:16–19).

Jesus’ Revelations At The Feast

On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.

— John 7:37–38

The Feast of Tabernacles, a period of merriment and contemplation for the Jewish community, offered a fitting setting for Jesus to impart crucial teachings and engage in profound spiritual dialogues. Amid this festivity, Jesus took part and delivered in a loud voice one of his most significant prophecies. This annual holiday symbolized a hopeful era of messianic salvation and anticipation.

However, in the days of Jesus, Israel found itself spiritually bereft, living under the oppressive rule of the Romans, and even the Holy of Holies stood vacant and desolate. This moment in the festival wasn’t merely a plea for physical rain but a desperate cry for God to pour out His spirit, the “living water” they so ardently yearned for.

At the peak of this ceremony, on the final day of the feast, Jesus boldly rose and proclaimed in a resonant voice a profound truth. In this proclamation, Jesus revealed that he held the remedy for their spiritual aridity—he was the genuine source of the water of life. Hearing this, some declared, “This is the Messiah” (John 7:41). Jesus fulfills the essence of the Tabernacle.

The ritual functioned as a confirmation of God’s commitment to dispatch an illuminating force to revive Israel’s splendor, free them from captivity, and reignite their jubilation. This connection was evident when Jesus declared, “I am the light of the world. Those who follow me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).

How Is The Feast Of Tabernacles Observed Today?

The contemporary Festival of Tabernacles falls on the 15th day of Tishrei, spanning nine days from late September to late October. It follows Yom Kippur by a short five-day gap.

In present-day America, the Feast of Tabernacles is a lively, multifarious celebration uniting individuals of diverse cultural origins to honor this age-old Jewish observance. Families of all belief systems and customs partake in the festivities, rendering it a distinctive and all-encompassing occasion. Anticipation electrifies the air as communities throughout the nation prepare themselves for this momentous happening.

Many begin by constructing temporary sukkahs, small huts, or booths made from natural materials in their backyards or communal spaces. These sukkahs symbolize the makeshift shelters used by the Israelites during their wanderings in the desert and serve as a reminder of the impermanence of life.

As the holiday approaches, the sukkahs are beautifully decorated with fruits, foliage, and colorful decorations. Families come together to share meals inside these humble structures, often inviting friends and neighbors to join them.

Customary Jewish delicacies like challah, brisket, and matzo ball soup scent the atmosphere, while the mirthful hum of conversations echoes within the sukkahs.

Communal gatherings, exemplified by parades and festivals, manifest in urban centers across the United States. In this contemporary era, the festivities have transformed into live musical performances, interpretive dances, and immersive art installations, vividly displaying the profound tapestry of cultures contributing to the American panorama.

Youngsters, adorned in their finest attire, actively engage in diverse pastimes. This activity includes crafting their own embellishments for the Sukkah and immersing themselves in the historical significance of the holiday.

Schools often incorporate the Feast of Tabernacles into their curriculum, promoting understanding and tolerance among different faiths. A pivotal element in the contemporary Feast of Tabernacles festivities revolves around unity, the significance of embracing diversity, and the unique tapestry of all nations.

young jewish boy smiling

Conclusion

The Feast of Tabernacles transcends being merely a harvest festival or commemorating past trials and current blessings. At its essence, it is a divinely ordained celebration intended to guide the Children of Israel toward the future and their forthcoming salvation.

In parallel to how the Israelites sought refuge in Tabernacles during their sojourn in the wilderness, it symbolizes the expectation that someday Jesus would take on the Tabernacle of flesh and Holy Spirit. Furthermore, in the ultimate days, he would return to the earthly tabernacle to set things right and abide with his people eternally.

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