Processing around the Sukkah

Reading the Old Testament and studying Church history makes it clear that our Christian faith is deeply rooted in Judaism. Pastors declare the entire Old Testament points to the coming of Jesus. Messianic Jews frequently tell about coming to know Jesus as the Messiah when they read the New Testament for the first time and realize it is a Jewish book. Jesus was called “Rabbi” by many. The first Christ followers were Jews whom Rome looked upon as a Jewish sect and by observant Jews, as heretics.

I share this with you because I believe becoming familiar with the Jewish holidays our Savior observed can deepen our understanding of what it means, as Christians, to be a branch from the root of Jesse.

The eight days of Sukkot, one of the High Holidays, occurs in September on our calendar. It starts on the 15th day of the month of Tishri on the Jewish calendar. Other names for Sukkot are Feast of Tabernacles or Feast of Booths.

Meaning of Sukkot

Sukkot recalls the years of the Jewish people’s desert wanderings and how they sheltered from the elements in sukkahs, or what we would call lean-tos. Sukkot reminds us that God lives, or “tabernacles,” with his people. It reminds us of God’s loving presence and provision, both in biblical times and now. It serves as a feast of thanksgiving for the fall harvest, and prayers for the spring harvest rains.


Symbolism plays a role in religious rituals and celebrations. I found God’s Appointed Times by Barney Kasdan [1] a terrific resource for learning about the symbolic elements of this colorful, joyous feast.

Jews camp in sukkahs, or at least dine in them, to memorialize their wilderness experience. It reminds them that God dwells with his people, no matter where they are. According to Kasdan, Sukkot is also known as Zman Simkhatenu —Time of Our Rejoicing.

During Sukkot, Rabbis bless the Four Species:

Ertrog (citron fruit from Israel)

Lulav (from the date palm)

Hadas (myrtle)

Arava (willow)

These are wrapped together so people can wave them in every direction as they process around the sukkah. Additionally, each of the Four Species represents four kinds of people.

  • Ertrog is sweet and has a pleasant fragrance, so it symbolizes learned people who do good deeds.
  • Lulav has a sweet taste but no fragrance. It represents learned people who do not do good deeds. (“Faith without works is dead.” James 2:17)
  • Hadas has a nice fragrance but is tasteless, like people who do good deeds but lack knowledge.
  • Arava has neither taste nor fragrance, so represents people who have no knowledge and perform no good deeds.

The sukkah’s structure is symbolic as well. The covering on the roof is made with anything that grows from the ground. To stress that these booths were temporary encampments, the roof is constructed so the stars can be seen through it.

For seven days the Rabbi and people process around the sukkah, and on the eighth day, they process seven times around it. They wave the lulav, and the Rabbi pours water as they rejoice in hope of the coming winter rains for their spring crops.  From Isaiah 12 “Therefore with joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” As you recall, Jesus referred to himself as the “living” water.” This connects the Water of Salvation in the Old Testament with Christ (the Water of Salvation) in the New Testament.

Here are a few photos I took of Shema Yisrael congregation’s Sukkot celebration.

David dancing

Bearing the Torah and water for future rains

I’m trying to read the entire Bible and can’t help but see God’s warnings to his people then as warnings to us now as I read the minor prophets. Just today I was reading the 14th Chapter of Zechariah. According the NIV comments, this chapter refers to the end times and specifically mentions the Feast of the Tabernacles. This time, the harvest will be souls. Many believe Christ is coming soon. If you have heard or read Rabbi Jonathan Cahn’s biblical assessment of what we are living through, Christ is coming sooner than later. Whether he is correct (or way off base) he always concludes with, “NOW is the time to get right with God.”

Can’t argue with that!

[1] Barney Kasdan, God’s Appointed Times, Lederer Books, a division of Messianic Jewish Publishers,Clarksville, Maryland ©1993 pp91-104