Messianic Education Trust
    Sukkot  

D'varim/Deuteronomy 11:14   And I will give the rain of your land in its time, early rain and late rain, and you shall gather your grain, your new wine and your new oil.


At the start of the High Holy Day season, drought and dryness is a strong theme: after the long hot parched summer, not only the land but the people are weary and desperate for rain to slake the thirst of man and soil alike. The days of Yom Teruah and Yom Kippur offer spiritual water to revive the soul and re-forge the connection between Israel and The Name ...

HaShem: literally, Hebrew for 'The Name' - an allusion used to avoid pronouncing the Tetragrammaton, the so-called 'ineffable' name of G–d
HaShem our G-d; the week-long festival of Sukkot offers a time to rejoice and acknowledge the harvest and plenty that HaShem has provided, with music, singing and dancing, the slightly cooler days and evenings and a time to relax and enjoy the well-earned fruits of the year's labours. Sukkot, called z'man simkhateynu - the time of our rejoicing - by the rabbis, is the time of year when, after all the harvest has been gathered in and the seasons start to turn, there is a window in the work, an opportunity to relax, laugh, eat and drink and catch up on all the family happenings.

The direct connection between Sukkot and the rain comes in the words of the prophets. Addressing those who are complaining about the poor harvests, Jeremiah chastises them for turning away from HaShem: "They have not said to themselves, 'Let us revere the L-RD our G-d, who gives the rain, the early and late rain in season, who keeps for our benefit the weeks appointed for harvest.' It is your iniquities that have diverted these things, your sins that have withheld the bounty from you" (Jeremiah 5:24-25, JPS). Where the people turn away, refuse to acknowledge HaShem and His role in providing the harvest, and won't keep the appointed feasts to celebrate HaShem's goodness, then the blessings are withheld. In the same way, Ezekiel connects the blessings of the Land and its produce with HaShem's explicit provision of the rains so that the people will know it is He who has redeemed them: "I will make these and the environs of My hill a blessing: I will send down the rain in its season, rains that bring blessing. The trees of the field shall yield their fruit and the land shall yield its produce. My people shall continue secure on its own soil. They shall know that I am the L-RD when I break the bars of their yoke and rescue them from those who enslave them" (Ezekiel 34:26-27, JPS).

Oddly enough, though, because we are living in our sukkot, we don't really want it to rain right now. A sukkah must have a roof that is thin enough that the stars can be seen at night, so if it rains the rabbis have excused both eating and sleeping in the sukkah (b. Sukkot 29a) as there will be little to keep the rain out and one's cushions and furniture will be spoiled. This sparks a discussion between two of the Sages about mentioning rain in the What Is ...

The Amidah: also known as Shemoneh Esrei - the Eighteen Blessings (although there are actually nineteen stanzas), this is one of the central prayers in each of the prayer services; Amidah means "standing", so it is also known as the Standing Prayer (for which everyone in the synagogue stands) or simply "The Prayer"; it is shortened on Shabbat and the festivals to exclude stanzas of petition
Amidah: "When do they include the mention of 'the powers of rain' [in the Prayer]? Rabbi Eliezer says, 'On the first day of the Festival [of Tabernacles].' Rabbi Joshua says, 'On the last day of the festival.' Rabbi Joshua asks, 'Since rain is only a sign of a curse when it comes on the festival itself, why should one mention it?' Rabbi Eliezer replies, 'I too have said so not for the purpose of asking [for rain] but only of mentioning "restoring the wind and bringing down the rain", [that is,] its due season.' Rabbi Joshua concludes, 'If so, one should always make mention of it' (m. Taa'anit 1:1). In practice, the halacha decides that we mention HaShem's rain-making and sending power in the second stanza (, Mighty Acts) - , "who makes the wind blow and the rain descend" - only between Shemini Atzeret (the eighth day of the festival of Sukkot) and Pesach, and in the ninth stanza (, The Blessings of the Years) - , "who gives dew and rain for a blessing" - only between the 4th/5th of December (approximately sixty days after Sukkot) until Pesach.

The two word phrase occurs many times in the Hebrew Bible. Translated as "the early (or former) rains and the late (or latter) rains", these normally come naturally in the Land of Israel in October or November, and in March or April respectively. Ploughing and planting would take place before the early rains, harvesting after the late rains. Even though they usually happen every year, the prophets make it clear that the rain is a direct and specific gift from heaven: "Ask the L-RD for rain in the season of late rain. It is the L-RD who causes storms; and He will provide rainstorms for them, grass in the fields for everyone" (Zechariah 10:1, JPS). Part of the most famous Elijah story demonstrates that HaShem can turn this on and off at will: "Elijah the Tishbite, an inhabitant of Gilead, said to Ahab, 'As the L-RD lives, the G-d of Israel whom I serve, there will be no dew or rain except at my bidding' ... Much later, in the third year, the word of the L-RD came to Elijah: 'Go, appear before Ahab; then I will send rain upon the earth'" (1 Kings 17:1,18:1, JPS). The writers of the Greek Scriptures too were steeped in Hebrew imagery and thought, so James uses the same phrase - "See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains" (James 5:7, ESV) - while Matthew shows that G-d is gracious to all mankind: "He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust" (Matthew 5:45, ESV). Yeshua can therefore tell the disciples, "Do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' ... your heavenly Father knows that you need them all" (6:31-32, ESV). The festival of Sukkot is a good time to bless G-d for all that He has provided, is providing and will provide for His people, who call on His name.

Another key passage that contains the "early and late rains" phrase is in the book of Joel. Notice the context in which it occurs: "Blow a horn in Zion, sound an alarm on My holy mount! Let all dwellers on earth tremble, for the day of the L-RD has come!" (Joel 2:1, JPS) - the Day of the L-rd. Firstly, the prophet calls on the people to turn to G-d: "Turn back to Me with all your hearts, and with fasting, weeping, and lamenting. Rend your hearts rather than your garments, and turn back to the L-RD your G-d. For He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in kindness, and renouncing punishment" (vv. 12-13, JPS). Then follows a block of verses describing what will happen when the people do turn back to G-d: "Fear not, O soil, rejoice and be glad; for the L-RD has wrought great deeds. Fear not, O beasts of the field, for the pastures in the wilderness are clothed with grass. The trees have borne their fruit; fig tree and vine have yielded their strength. O children of Zion, be glad; rejoice in the L-RD your G-d. For He has given you the early rain in His kindness, now He makes the rain fall as formerly -- the early rain and the late -- and threshing floors shall be piled with grain, and vats shall overflow with new wine and oil" (vv. 21-24, JPS). What a wonderful picture of the Land being blessed and yielding its blessing for G-d's ancient people. It could have been partly fulfilled after the return from Babylon. It might be in sight now that the state of Israel is once again in existence. But the prophet continues: "I will repay you for the years consumed by swarms and hoppers, by grubs and locusts, the great army I let loose against you. And you shall eat your fill and praise the name of the L-RD your G-d who dealt so wondrously with you -- My people shall be shamed no more. And you shall know that I am in the midst of Israel: that I the L-RD am your G-d and there is no other. And My people shall be shamed no more" (vv. 25-27, JPS). Notice the repeated phrase at the end of verse 26 and 27: My people shall be shamed no more. This has not happened, in our day or in any previous day. G-d's people - whether His ancient but continuing Jewish people, or His people called out from the nations in Messiah Yeshua - are still widely shamed and the nations do not acknowledge that the L-rd G-d is in the midst of Israel!

This Sukkot as we dwell in our sukkot and rejoice with the lulav and etrog, shaking them in all directions to proclaim the sovereignty of our G-d, blessing Him for what He has done for His people throughout the years, let us also cry out for more. Let us cry out that G-d's name be proclaimed and acknowledged by all the nations and that the fullness of the prophet's next words shall come to pass: "After that, I will pour out My spirit on all flesh; your sons and daughters shall prophesy; your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. I will even pour out My spirit upon male and female slaves in those days" (3:1-2, JPS) May it be soon and in our days!

Further Study: Ecclesiastes 3:10-15; John 1:14-18

Application: Do you long to see Jew and Gentile rejoicing together as the undivided people of G-d? The sukkah provides both a context for and a picture of what that will look like. G-d is building His tabernacle, rebuilding the Tabernacle of David and you are invited! Find a sukkah near you and try it out this year!

12:11 28Sep15 David Wright: I like this presentation a lot! We do not have even a balcony here to build a succah, but the synagogue - that accepts Messianic Jews - does! So I will remember this in the succah on shabbat.

© Jonathan Allen, 2015



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