♪ This is the time of our rejoicing, z’man simchateinu! ♫
Oh yes, fine blog readers, it is Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles, one of the 7 feasts of the Lord, a time we’re commanded to rejoice before the Lord for a full week, and then some.
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.
I’ve had a great Sukkot, despite some busy-ness and even (gasp) controversy (more on that in the next post) – yes, even with these distractions, I’ve had a time of rejoicing. I was singing some praises on the guitar last week and it was positively joyful and renewing.
With Sukkot winding down this week, I wanted to add the Sukkot commandments to the Greatest Commandments Project. For the uninitiated, the Greatest Commandments Project is a massive visual hierarchy of all the commandments in the Torah, each deriving from another, starting with what Yeshua said was the most important commandments. Here’s what it looks like today:
(Click to enlarge)
In Maimonides’ famous list of 613 commandments in the Torah, he finds 13 (!) mitzvot related to Sukkot. I’ll list ‘em here, then map them below with a short blurb on each.
- #104 To rest on Sukkot
- #105 Not to do prohibited labor on Sukkot
- #106 To rest on Shemini Atzeret (last day of Sukkot)
- #107 Not to do prohibited labor on Shemini Atzeret
- #117 To dwell in a Sukkah for the seven days of Sukkot
- #118 To take up a Lulav and Etrog all seven days
- #390 To bring additional offerings on Sukkot
- #391 To bring additional offerings on Shemini Atzeret
- #420 To be seen at the Temple on Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot
- #421 To celebrate on these three Festivals (bring a peace offering)
- #422 To rejoice on these three Festivals (bring a peace offering)
- #423 Not to appear at the Temple without offerings
- #425 To assemble all the people on the Sukkot following the seventh year
Whew! That’s a lot of miztvot mappin’ to do!
Let’s map them below, with a little blurb on each:
Rest on the first day of Sukkot
No prohibited labor on the first day of Sukkot
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. The first day is a sacred assembly; do no regular work.
Tabernacles, or Sukkot, is a sabbath of rest from regular work. Consistent with Maimonides’ habit of gleaning 2 commandments from a single passage on resting during sabbath festivals, so it is with the Sukkot commandments. I’ve derived these commandments from the “begin your year in the month of Passover” commandment.
Rest on the last day of Sukkot
No regular work on the last day of Sukkot
For seven days present food offerings to the LORD, and on the eighth day hold a sacred assembly and present a food offering to the LORD. It is the closing special assembly; do no regular work.
Called “Shemini Atzeret”, the 8th day of the assembly, or the day following the week of Sukkot, is a day of rest as well.
Is Shemini Atzeret the last day of Sukkot? Or is it really the day after the last day of Sukkot? A plain reading of the text suggests there are 7 days of Sukkot (see v.36), and that Shemini Atzeret is really a separate holy day following Sukkot.
At this time, however, there is no certainty on it, with many people referring to this day simply as the 8th day of Sukkot.
Live in a sukkah during Sukkot
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.’”
The most recognizable Sukkot commandment: live in a sukkah! The feast’s namesake, Sukkot, is plural for sukkah: a tent, tabernacle, or other makeshift temporary dwelling.
It's interesting to note that this commandment applies specifically to native-born Israelites. This may excuse various Sukkot-honoring people in the diaspora from having to live in make-shift shelters for a week, which, more than inconvenient, may actually be a health concern in colder climates. (I’m in Minnesota in the northern United States, and living in a Sukkah here for 7 days would be rather bone chilling this time of year.)
Rejoice before the LORD with branches from luxurious trees on Sukkot
On the first day you are to take branches from luxuriant trees—from palms, willows and other leafy trees—and rejoice before the LORD your God for seven days.
Biblically, the commandment is to take fruit of beautiful trees, branches of palms, boughs of thick trees, and willows of a brook, and rejoice before God. How they are to be used is a matter of debate.
The modern Jewish understanding is that they are to be waved around before the Lord. The practice is something of the worshipper taking the species above his head, waving them in all 4 directions.
But there is evidence that may not have always been the intended use. After all, waving fruit and branches over your head might be joyous for some, for others it may be awkward and ritualistic. Jewish blogger DovBear highlights the Samaritan Sukkah and Nehemiah’s Sukkah, in which these species of branches and fruit are used in building beautiful sukkahs, rather than waving them over the head. To this day, Samaritans use these species as sukkah-building materials, rather than ritual waving:
This seems to coincide with Nehemiah 8:13-18, where the people, having heard the Torah for the first time, went out and gathered these species for sukkah building:
On the second day of the month, the heads of all the families, along with the priests and the Levites, gathered around Ezra the teacher to give attention to the words of the Law. They found written in the Law, which the LORD had commanded through Moses, that the Israelites were to live in temporary shelters during the festival of the seventh month and that they should proclaim this word and spread it throughout their towns and in Jerusalem: “Go out into the hill country and bring back branches from olive and wild olive trees, and from myrtles, palms and shade trees, to make temporary shelters”—as it is written. So the people went out and brought back branches and built themselves temporary shelters on their own roofs, in their courtyards, in the courts of the house of God and in the square by the Water Gate and the one by the Gate of Ephraim.
It isn’t how it’s practiced today by modern Judaism, but take it or leave it.
In Maimonides’ list of 613 commandments, he described this commandment in the way that it’s practiced today: To take up a Lulav and Etrog all seven days.
Issues of how the species are used aside, I differ with Maimonides in the focus of this feast: rather than species, the focus is rejoicing in the Lord. I’ve mapped the commandment accordingly.
Appear before the LORD during Unleavened Bread, Shavuot, and Sukkot
Three times a year all your men must appear before the LORD your God at the place he will choose: at the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the Festival of Weeks and the Festival of Tabernacles.
Though the text literally commands appearing before the LORD, it's assumed the appearance before the Lord is before the Tabernacle/Temple. Maimonides comes to this conclusion as well, and as such, I've marked this commandment as not able to follow today, given the lack of a Tabernacle.
No appearing before the LORD empty-handed and without offerings
No one should appear before the LORD empty-handed: Each of you must bring a gift in proportion to the way the LORD your God has blessed you.
The appearing before the Lord on the pilgrimage festivals required the worshipper to bring offerings seemingly according to the degree with which God blessed him. There’s almost a taboo in modern religious thinking that tells us not to measure God’s involvement. I mean, “count your blessings” is cute, but in reality, do we actually measure this? The Israelites were to bring gifts on the feasts in proportion to the degree God blessed them.
Celebrate on Unleavened Bread, Shavuot, and Sukkot
Rejoice on Unleavened Bread, Shavuot, and Sukkot
Three times a year you are to celebrate a festival to me.
Maimonides equates celebrating on these festivals with bringing a peace offering in the Tabernacle. Though this was part of the celebration, I have not limited the commandment so. Instead, I allow for keeping this commandment today through celebrating the festival, even without bringing offerings in the Tabernacle.
Bring additional offerings on the first day of Sukkot
Bring additional offerings on the last day of Sukkot
On the fifteenth day of the seventh month, hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work. Celebrate a festival to the LORD for seven days. Present as an aroma pleasing to the LORD a food offering consisting of a burnt offering of thirteen young bulls, two rams and fourteen male lambs a year old, all without defect.
Present as an aroma pleasing to the LORD a food offering consisting of a burnt offering of one bull, one ram and seven male lambs a year old, all without defect. With the bull, the ram and the lambs, offer their grain offerings and drink offerings according to the number specified. Include one male goat as a sin offering, in addition to the regular burnt offering with its grain offering and drink offering.
Nearly all of Numbers 29 is a detailed explanation of the Sukkot offerings, each day of the festival having different offerings of animals and grains.
Hear the Torah at the end of the 7th year on Sukkot
Then Moses commanded them: “At the end of every seven years, in the year for canceling debts, during the Festival of Tabernacles, when all Israel comes to appear before the LORD your God at the place he will choose, you shall read this law before them in their hearing. Assemble the people—men, women and children, and the foreigners residing in your towns—so they can listen and learn to fear the LORD your God and follow carefully all the words of this law."
This seems like a lesser-known commandment; I can’t say I remember hearing this commandment in the past 10 years, let alone following it. The law itself may seem a little outdated: since the people didn’t have access to the Torah themselves, necessarily, nor could all read it if they had access, the Torah was to be read before all the people – men and women, natives and foreigners, old and young – so that everyone would know the Torah. This coincided when all Israel had come up to the Tabernacle/Temple during the pilgrimage feast of Sukkot, an opportune time to make God’s commandments in the Torah known to the whole people.
Maimonides’ interpretation is a little lacking, it seems. His interpretation is: To assemble all the people on the Sukkot following the seventh year.
Yes, the people were to be assembled, but the point here is not the assembly, but the hearing of the “words of this law”, which seems to be referring to the whole Torah.
Despite this commandment seeming a bit outdated, nonetheless it can be carried out today.
The Big Picture
Wooohooo! Almost all of the feast commandments have now been mapped. I’ve highlighted them in purple below for easy viewing:
Or alternately, view the commandments map in this deep zoom visualizer:
And here are the statistics for the commandments thus far:
- 107 commandments have been mapped thus far.
- 91% (97 commandments) are concerned with loving God.
- 9% (10 commandments) are concerned with loving others.
- 31% (33 commandments) are related to idolatry.
- 91% (97 commandments) can be carried out in modern times.
- 22% (23 commandments) can be carried out only in Israel.
- 44% (47 commandments) are positive.
- 56% (60 commandments) are negative.
- 5% (6 commandments) have alternate readings.
- 18% (19 commandments) are from Exodus.
- 40% (43 commandments) are from Leviticus.
- 6% (6 commandments) are from Numbers.
- 36% (39 commandments) are from Deuteronomy.
- Generally, Christians observe 48% of all the commandments.
- (26% actually carried out, 15% attempted by many, 6% recognized but not widely carried out, 53% no attempted observance.)
- Generally, Messianics observe 83% of all the commandments.
- (55% widely carried out, 16% attempted by many, 12% recognized but not widely carried out, 17% no attempted observance.)
- Generally, observant Jews obey 84% of all the commandments.
- (58% widely carried out, 16% attempted by many, 12% recognized but not widely carried out, 16% no attempted observance.)
- Average commandment length is 176 characters.
- Average commandment summary is 36 characters.
- The Greatest Commandments Project is 17.5% completed!
I hope you all have had a time of rejoicing this Sukkot, fine blog readers.